February 2018 Innovate

Change That Sticks: 7 Reasons Your Change Initiatives Are Failing and How to Make Them Last

Written By: Heather Parbst

One of the biggest challenges to change is that people don’t understand, or accept, that change is a process. This reality hit me square in the face – hard – many years ago when I was counseling people struggling with substance abuse and addiction. It quickly became glaringly apparent that no matter how much change was needed, change would only happen under two conditions. The change needed to be supported by those most impacted by it. This was the person, and usually their family and closest friends.

Also, said person needed to have reached a critical “readiness for change” level. This usually happened after they spent a good deal of time contemplating the pros and cons of making the change. Real change never happened before everyone was really on board. Even once behaviors were changed, the changes didn’t always stick, even when the best of intentions were at play. It took deliberate and consistent effort over an extended period of time for long-lasting change to happen.

Leaders sometimes overlook two things when it comes to change. They don’t recognize change as a process and they deny the fact that have minimal control over whether or not change sticks. Yes, forcing a change down into the organization without honoring the process will usually net you a short-term result. But, turn your back and you’re likely to hear that change fall to the floor not long after, like a poster board stuck to the wall with too little tape.

So how do we get better at creating “sticky” change that lasts? We can start by avoiding these common pitfalls that companies fall into when trying to roll out change.

Pitfall 1: They don’t create a solid case change

This is where you challenge the current state of things and create a sense of urgency around the change. Having a good business case helps to state a compelling need and provide justification for why the change is needed. It spells out the story of an impending future – good or bad.

Pitfall 2: The organization isn’t ready

Even if the organization desperately needs to change, that doesn’t mean the timing is right for change. It’s like going on a diet during the holidays. Sure, we may want to lose weight but change efforts might be met with better success if we wait until after the heightened stress and temptation of the holidays has passed. Does your organization have the resources, time, talent, money and leadership to pull this off? What is the current level of stress in the organization? You may need to do crisis management or address a resource gap before embarking on a resource laden change initiative.

Pitfall 3: They don’t get buy-in from the right people

Having leadership on board and supportive of the change process is critical to success and this must be more than just lip service. In addition to leadership support, make sure you’ve addressed the three R’s: the “right people” from the “right areas” within the organization with the “right attitudes.” Build a team that carries the authority needed, represents the people impacted by the change and has a positive attitude about what you are doing. You’ll also probably have to overcome some resistance to your idea. It is perfectly natural for people to resist change. You’ll need to help those who are resistant to feel supported and heard in order to work through their negative feelings about the change. Skip this step and you’ll risk resentment and even sabotage.

Pitfall 4: They don’t build the vision

Companies frequently jump the gun and start implementing a change without getting clarity on the vision of what they are trying to accomplish. The outcome is often a diligent and hardworking team clearing a road through the wilderness, just in the wrong direction. Get clear on where you are going and overcommunicate that vision to your team so there is no confusion on the ultimate goal.

Pitfall 5: They don’t communicate enough

Change expert, William Bridges, author of “Managing Transitions,” suggests leaders use the four P’s when communicating a change. You’ll want to share the purpose of the change, the picture of the expected outcome, the plan for navigating from where you are to where you are going and the part the person will play in making the change successful. Communicate throughout the life of the project, not just at the beginning. Consistently share information and get feedback. Use multiple formats and mixed media. Shoot for extreme clarity and overcommunication.

Pitfall 6: They declare victory too soon

Rather than sustaining momentum, some companies declare victory as soon as they see light at the end of the tunnel. This premature victory sends the incorrect message that it is okay to take the foot off the gas and the change initiative fizzles before it is truly institutionalized. Don’t stop until you’ve incorporated the change fully, including building out any necessary systems that will support the change.

Pitfall 7: They don’t celebrate their success

Once the work of your change team is finished, it’s important to celebrate and recognize the milestones you’ve met. Change teams frequently linger on for no apparent reason which can dilute your change process over the long term. Hold a formal celebration. Review your successes and get feedback from those impacted by the change. Not only will this help you to continuously improve your change process, but it will also validate the hard work of you and your team.

Change initiatives can be complicated and we ultimately can’t control whether people choose to get on board or not. But we can certainly create an environment that encourages change to happen. Remembering that change is a process and working to avoid the pitfalls outlined above can significantly improve the chances that your change initiative will stick.


Heather Parbst is a business consultant and founder of Clarity3 Consulting, a company helping organizations solve their operations, culture and leadership challenges. Heather uses her part experience owning, leading, growing, and selling a technology company along with a background in psychology to help her clients execute on their objectives, move toward organizational excellence and increase their impact. 

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