Managing Change: Common Obstacles to Success


Change aheadA great deal has been written over the last decade or so about the importance of change management and the approaches most likely to lead to success.  Having a positive impact on the engagement and performance of people through times of change is well recognised as a critical priority for most businesses.    Despite this growing body of knowledge and a heightened focus on managing change well, it remains a difficult challenge for many of the leaders we work with. 

In my second book The People Managers Toolkit I offer the following key indicators of a successful approach:


A compelling vision for the future is created and communicated

  • People are aware of and understand the need for change
  • Current reality, relative to the desired future state, is recognised and understood
  • Plans articulate the scope of change, goals to be achieved and strategies implemented
  • Communication is a key priority and managed well throughout
  • Members of the team actively participate in and support the change
  • People have the knowledge and skills they need to change
  • Champions of change are identified and effectively leveraged
  • Progress is monitored and steps taken to overcome obstacles, challenges or risks along the way
  • Change is reinforced to ensure it is maintained

While these outcomes may be easy to say, in practice they can be far more challenging to achieve.  Described below are common factors that undermine success; in other words the things I most often observe making the job of managing change so difficult?   Experience has shown me that a lack of clarity, need for coaching and absence of accountability are at the heart of the challenges leaders of change face.  These are the same things I most often observe lacking when a leader or business struggles to manage performance well. 

Lack of Clarity

  • It can be difficult to provide clarity when the path ahead is not yet understood.  At times the best we can do is tell people what we already know and commit to sharing greater insight when we can.
  • Fear will often cause people to avoid the truth; at times we tell ourselves stories or create versions of reality we prefer to accept.
  • The often fast pace of change can make it difficult to keep people informed.  Shifting circumstances, strategies and priorities make communicating well a challenging objective.
  • Making sure every member of the team understands their role and how they impact success is a critical starting point.  Maintaining this role clarity is a priority throughout the change process.

Need for Coaching

  • Leaders and change agents often fail to invest the time needed to bring people along on the journey.Mountain climbing
  • Developing the knowledge, skills and experience needed to implement and embed change is a common obstacle to success.
  • When leaders are also learning, it can be difficult to provide the coaching members of the team need to succeed through times of change.
  • Adopting a ‘hands on’ approach and maintaining close communication throughout any change process is essential.



Absence of Accountability

  • Driving successful change demands that not only leaders but also every member of a team take ownership for the role they play.
  • Unless implementing change truly matters it will be difficult to overcome the resistance, complacency and lethargy that so often stand in the way of progress.
  • Ownership for success of the program of change as well as each of its component parts must be clearly assigned.
  • Consequences need to be applied; both reward and recognition of successes as well as remedial action taken when result aren’t achieved.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What are some of the reasons you have most often seen change fail?  What do you prioritise to ensure you achieve your objectives and bring every member of your team along with you?


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