Organizations don’t change. People do–or they don’t.


Change is a constant in business today – in fact, it’s the only thing that’s guaranteed! Yet, if it’s so common, why do so many organizations get it wrong? The vast majority of companies continue to just hope that employees of their change initiatives will simply embrace the changes thrust upon them. But that approach hardly ever works.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in initiating major company changes is to expect that everyone’s reaction will be even remotely like yours. Regardless of the catalyst for the change, it will be your employees who determine whether it successfully achieves its desired outcome.

Organizations don’t change. People do – or they don’t. If employees don’t trust leadership, don’t share the organization’s vision, don’t buy into the reason for change – there will be no successful change – regardless of how brilliant the strategy.

You can’t lead change if you don’t understand your employees. And the best way to do that is to start thinking like your employees. So better start asking yourself these questions:

#1 – Do I understand why change is necessary?

Failure to create a sense of urgency causes a change movement to lose momentum before it gets a chance to start. Establishing a true sense of urgency without creating an emergency is the first objective achieved to overcome the routine of daily business.

#2 – Do I feel the problem?

Before you can get buy-in, people need to feel the problem. People aren’t going to consider anything until they are convinced there is a problem that truly needs to be addressed.

Time and communication are the two keys to success for the changes to occur. People need time to understand the changes and they also need to feel highly connected to the organization throughout the transition period. When you are managing change, this can require a great deal of time and effort and hands-on management is usually the best approach.

#3 – Do I resist the change?

Understanding the most common reasons people object to change gives you the opportunity to plan your change strategy to address these factors.

In order to accept the change and contribute to making the change successful, people need to understand how the changes will benefit them. Not everyone will fall in line just because the change is necessary and will benefit the company. This is a common assumption and pitfall that should be avoided.

#4 – Do I support the change efforts?

So if your approach to initiating changes has been to assume that a single message, a single person, or even a single group is going to make change happen, I highly recommend that you pause for a moment and look to see whether you have one, healthy, change-ready company, or whether you may have warring tribes that are about to destroy one another amid forced change.

#5 – Do I feel involved?

Whenever an organization imposes new things on people there will be difficulties. Participation, involvement and open, early, full communication are the important factors

#6 – Do I feel informed about the change progress?

People in the organization may need to hear a message over and over before they believe that this time, the call for change is not just a whim or a passing fancy. It takes time for people to hear, understand, and believe the message. So better make sure that the internal communication is on the top of the agenda: Communication is paramount when it comes to change management – Lots of it.

#7 – Do I lose face?

By definition, change is a departure from the past. Those people associated with the last version – the one that didn’t work, or the one that’s being superseded – are likely to be defensive about it. When change involves a big shift of strategic direction, the people responsible for the previous direction dread the perception that they must have been wrong. Leaders can help people maintain dignity by celebrating those elements of the past that are worth honoring, and making it clear that the world has changed. That makes it easier to let go and move on.

#8 – Do I loos control?

Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory. It’s not just political, as in who has the power. Our sense of self-determination is often the first things to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else. Smart leaders leave room for those affected by change to make choices. They invite others into the planning, giving them ownership.

#9 – Do I think there are too many changes?

Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Too many differences can be distracting or confusing. Leaders should try to minimize the number of unrelated differences introduced by a central change. Wherever possible keep things familiar. Remain focused on the important things; avoid change for the sake of change.

#10 – Do I have the right competencies?

Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid. They might express skepticism about whether the new software version will work or whether digital journalism is really an improvement, but down deep they are worried that their skills will be obsolete. Leaders should over-invest in structural reassurance, providing abundant information, education, training, mentors, and support systems. A period of overlap, running two systems simultaneously, helps ease transitions.

#11 – Do I know what success would look like?

Ask them to envision what success would look like and what it would take to get there. With enough of these conversations, you might enlist them in making the change happen, rather than preventing it.

Change management mistakes to avoid

Deciding what to change is one thing. Making changes stick is another.