Five common mistakes leaders make when implementing organisational change

April 17, 2023
Mark Sharp

Organisational change is an essential process that helps businesses stay competitive, improve performance, and adapt to a new direction.  

But implementing change is never easy, and leaders often make mistakes that can undermine their efforts.

Here are five common mistakes leaders make when implementing organisational change and how to avoid them.

1. Failing to communicate clearly

Clear communication, whether a strategy, structure, or personnel change, is essential during any organisational change process. However, the most common mistake leaders make during such changes is not communicating clearly with their people about the reasons for the difference and how it will affect them.

We have all forgotten who we have said what to and who knows which bits of information.

Effective communication involves more than just announcing the change; it requires engaging with people and addressing their concerns. Leaders should take the time to explain the rationale behind the change, the goals they hope to achieve, and how the difference fits into the company’s broader strategy.

It’s also important to explain how the change will impact people personally. Will there be changes to their roles or responsibilities? Will there be changes to their working hours or location? Employees must understand what is expected of them and how their daily work will be impacted.

What you could do

Transparency is crucial during change; it builds trust and helps your people feel valued and respected. Leaders should be honest about the challenges they expect to face, the potential risks associated with the change, and the benefits it will bring to the business and its people.

2. Not involving employees in the process

Another common mistake is not involving your people in the change process. Involving people in the change process is crucial for successfully implementing organisational change. By consulting with the team, leaders can better understand how the change will impact the business’s day-to-day operations and use this insight to make informed decisions.

When people are involved in the process, they feel valued and respected, which can help to build a sense of ownership and commitment to the change. This sense of ownership can motivate people to become champions of the change, promoting it to their colleagues and helping to ensure its success.

In addition to providing valuable insights, involving your people in the change process can also help identify potential challenges or obstacles during implementation. By identifying these challenges early on, leaders can develop strategies to mitigate their impact and increase the chances of success.

The added benefits

It’s also worth noting that involving people in the change process doesn’t necessarily mean leaders must follow their suggestions or ideas.

However, by listening to their input and considering their perspectives, leaders can build trust and credibility with their people, leading to a more positive work environment and better morale.

3. Underestimating resistance to change

Resistance to change is common in many organisations and can have various causes. One reason why people may resist change is that they fear the unknown. Change can disrupt familiar routines and create uncertainty about what the future holds. Employees may worry about how their jobs or roles will change, whether they will be able to adapt to new systems or processes, and the impact of the change on their work-life balance.

Another reason for resistance to change is the loss of control. People may feel that they are being forced to accept changes they disagree with or do not have a say in the decision-making process. This can lead to frustration, anger, and a sense of powerlessness. Leaders need to communicate effectively with their teams to ensure that they understand the reasons for the change and feel that their voices are being heard.

A lack of understanding is another cause of resistance to change. Employees may need to fully comprehend why a change is necessary or how it will benefit the organisation. This can lead to scepticism and a reluctance to embrace the new direction. Leaders must take the time to explain the reasons for the change and how it will benefit everyone involved.

Resistance to change can manifest in many ways, such as increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, or open opposition. Leaders need to be vigilant in monitoring these signs and address them promptly. Identifying the root cause of resistance and finding ways to manage your people’s concerns is essential.  

What you could do

Leaders should engage with employees, listen to their feedback, and involve them in decision-making as much as possible. Nurture advocacy and actively involve employees who show support in routines and communications.    

4. Failing to align the change with the culture

Organisational culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, and practices that shape how people think, feel, and act in an organisation. It is a crucial determinant of how employees perceive and respond to change initiatives. Change can be disruptive and unsettling for employees, especially if it clashes with the established norms and expectations of the organisational culture. Therefore, leaders need to be aware of the cultural dynamics of their organisation and understand how a proposed change may affect it.

Effective change management requires leaders to engage in a thoughtful and strategic process of planning, communicating, and implementing change. They must articulate a clear vision and purpose for the change aligned with the organisation’s mission, values, and culture. This requires a deep understanding of the organisation’s history, values, and practices, as well as an appreciation of the perspectives and concerns of employees.

What you could do

Leaders should involve employees in the change process and solicit feedback and ideas. This can build trust and commitment and create a sense of ownership and responsibility for the change. Leaders can also identify potential barriers to change by involving employees and addressing them proactively.

5. Not following through

Finally, a common mistake is not following through with the change. Leaders may implement the change but must monitor its progress or make adjustments.

Change is a process, and leaders must be proactive in ensuring it works as intended. They should monitor progress, gather feedback, and make necessary adjustments to ensure the change is successful. This is where agile working methods can prove valuable – visual, collaborative, iterative and feedback-driven.

Implementing organisational change can be challenging, but avoiding these common mistakes can help leaders make the process smoother and more successful. Clear communication, employee involvement, addressing resistance, aligning with culture, and follow-through are all essential to ensure effective and sustainable change.

By avoiding these common mistakes, leaders can achieve change goals and create a more dynamic and resilient organisation.

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For further reading, I highly recommend Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, which gives some helpful advice.

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