Another Failed Change Initiative: 3 Roadblocks to Successful Change and How to Remove Them

A failed change initiative is costly—wasted time and money on failed implementation, lost ROI on the projected results of the change, and decreased trust from employees in leadership’s ability to bring about effective change. Given these avoidable losses, leadership should look for and remove the following three roadblocks to prevent a failed change initiative.

Communication Gaps – Let’s define this as the space where information goes to die, either because the message was not clear and thus was ignored, or because the recipients never received it all together. This can be the result of a number of things: poor communication tools, differing language or jargon, physical or process barriers, mistrust in the deliverer, etc. Whatever the cause (and it needs to be determined), communication gaps result in people missing valuable information that prevents them from doing their job well. Imagine, now, that some of that missing information is new and/or critical to a successful change initiative. Do you see the problem?

Unclear Expectations – Unclear expectations are simply ambiguous goals by which an employee has to guess what their target or behaviors should be. Unclear expectations can be the result of subjective pinpoints or a consequence of a communication gap. Regardless, when this happens people do not know what success looks like, and they find themselves bouncing around with variable performance until they think they are doing what the boss is looking for. Adding in changes, without objective pinpoints of goals or critical behaviors, can cause further confusion and inhibit the enhanced performance the change initiative aims to address.

Low Morale & Mistrust – Even if communication gaps and unclear expectations are not challenges in an organization, low morale and mistrust can still derail a change initiative. When good performance goes unnoticed, people start to only do the minimum required of them. This presents a problem when a change is presented because we know that learning something new requires a lot of discretionary effort. On top of that, if leadership has behaved in ways that entirely contradict what they say, employees will eventually tune them out and stop paying attention. Words from mistrusted leaders lose their value, predictability, and meaning. As a result, all communication that comes from these leaders regarding a change initiative is swept under the rug, along with everything else they say. Clearly, low morale and mistrust can ground even the most well-intentioned and calculated change initiatives before they even have a chance to take flight. 

We know change is necessary throughout the evolution of any successful organization—from changing personnel, to equipment, or processes and procedures. Some changes are small and require little preparation and execution, while others can significantly influence the way employees work, and therefore require thoughtful delivery. For major change, removing roadblocks such as communication gaps, unclear expectations, or low morale and trust must be done if you want to achieve successful, positive change.

Posted by Emily Moses

Emily Moses is an adviser and partner to clients across industries, and has a unique understanding of the driving forces of behavior, how profit and loss impact a company's sustainability, and how these variables interrelate.