The only constant is change. In the business world, this is more than a saying. Change management — the process of preparing for, delivering and following through on new business objectives, products and strategies — is a way of life.
The average organization has incorporated five big changes over the past three years. And 75% of companies expect even more changes over the next three years, according to the management consulting company Gartner.
And yet, change initiatives fail more often than not. In a study by Gartner, about 50% clearly failed, 16% had mixed success and only 34% had clear success.
Identifying obstacles and solutions
Every step — preparation, delivery and follow-up — brings its share of obstacles. Identifying and overcoming these challenges is vital to change management.
The following obstacles are common across companies and industries:
- Human resistance to change
- Lack of communication
- Insufficient time and training
- Business and economic challenges
Human resistance to change
Obstacle: It’s human nature to crave structure and routine. Work-related changes can upend feelings of certainty and create stress.
Stress can be even higher when employees are caught off guard or don’t understand the reasons behind the change.
Solution: Give plenty of notice leading up to the change. For example, let’s say you’re switching to a new payroll vendor. Months before the move, explain why you’re switching vendors, how the process will unfold, and why it will benefit your employees and your organization.
With every change, provide details. Identify:
- Who will be affected
- When the change will occur
- Training opportunities
- Employee and employer expectations
- Measurements for success
Lack of communication
Obstacle: Employees want to be in the know. Gaps in communication, mistrust in the messaging and a one-way dialogue impede change.
Solution: Clear, consistent communication will support your initiatives. In a survey by the employment agency Robert Half and Associates, 65% of supervisors cited frequent contact with employees as the most important factor in change management.
Before you implement a change, communicate your reasoning early and often. Use multiple channels, including email, one-on-one conversations and staff meetings. Ask for employee feedback prior to and during the transition, and promptly respond to questions and critiques.
A thorough communication plan will earn employees’ trust and support. Make your company leaders visible and accessible throughout the transition, from announcement to implementation.
It also helps to identify change champions at every level of your organization. These are trusted, highly connected employees who support the change. Their enthusiasm and word-of-mouth support can generate buy-in from colleagues.
Insufficient time and training
Obstacle: Without realistic time frames and robust training, change initiatives are set up for failure.
A transition that’s too short creates unrealistic demands. But when extended too far, change initiatives can become watered down or abandoned altogether.
Scheduling a proper time frame goes hand in hand with identifying training opportunities. Your staff need skills and support to cope with transitions.
Solution: Chart your steps from start to finish. Then set measurable and achievable goals for each step. This will help you create realistic time frames and engage employees.
For example, a product rebranding requires multiple rounds of brainstorming, copy, graphics, testing and feedback before the change can be implemented outside the walls of your business. Schedule time for each of these steps after conferring with key employees on their workloads and bandwidths.
Market expansions, mergers, new technology rollouts and other large-scale changes often require training. Identify opportunities to upskill and reskill employees. Or consider new hires or consultants to help with these transitions.
Finally, using a focus group or starting with a pilot can help you identify and resolve issues early in the process. This can make for a smoother transition when the change is expanded to your full organization or rolled out to your customers.
Business and economic challenges
Obstacle: The business world is never static. The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, inflation and mass layoffs are recent examples of economic and global forces that can disrupt business.
Challenges often occur on a smaller scale as well. For example, you may need to pivot resources to a new product or move to a new office. And budgets can shrink, forcing you to scale back or abandon a scheduled change. Employee turnover is another obstacle, especially when executives or change champions leave or are laid off.
Solution: Change initiatives shouldn’t be built in a rigid fashion, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Instead, schedule flexibility into timelines and performance metrics to accommodate unexpected challenges.
Supervisors and employees should be prepped to make adjustments. For example, cross-training and succession planning can allow employees to step into new roles when needed.
When disruption occurs, communicate early and often to explain the next steps to all stakeholders. Remaining nimble can make setbacks temporary and keep change initiatives on track.
Preparation is paramount
Obstacles are a normal part of change management. Understanding and preparing for these challenges can help you overcome them and successfully implement new objectives.
For more ideas on change management, talk with your benefits adviser. They can connect you to resources to guide your team through new initiatives. If changes go beyond the capacity of your current team, they can help you find consultants with change management experience and expertise.