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Six Reasons Why Your Change Program Is Failing

Tim VaughanTim Vaughan·

Just when you thought you had everything under control, the bottom falls out. Employees are leaving, are disengaged—even engaging in open rebellion. Here are six reasons your change program might not be working—and how you can turn it around.

It has been widely reported that 70% of change projects fail. According to Priya Bates, an award-winning professional communicator, and owner of Inner Strength Communication, the number-one reason for such failures is poor communication. But there are several other factors influencing the success—or failure—of change projects.

Drawing from the Goals and Achievements article “6 Reasons Why Change Programs Fail” and from her extensive experience leading communications internally and as a consultant, Priya identifies six reasons your change program might not be working and offers actionable steps you can take to achieve success.

Ineffective communication

Communication is a crucial aspect of any change program. Communicators need to create clear, consistent messages and help leaders convey these messages effectively. But effective communication isn’t a one-way street; communication professionals need to both broadcast and listen. That means listening to employees and internal stakeholders and getting their input whenever possible. This is a huge opportunity for communication professionals to impact the success of the change program.

Top-down process

Often, leaders don’t understand that they need to move employees through the change curve—that is, help them move from shock and denial, to anger and resistance, to acceptance and adoption, and finally, to commitment.

Instead, many leaders begin to implement a change program without realizing that they’ve spent the past 2 or 3 years going through the change curve, talking about the process, and getting answers to their questions.

Now they’re ready to move forward, but they fail to recognize that their employees are just starting on the change path and will need some time to process the changes.

For this reason, Priya recommends including employees and internal stakeholders in co-creation efforts whenever possible. These key influencers are not necessarily senior leaders, but employees and internal stakeholders who can either help support the change—or spread resistance to change.

You need to be aware of these influencers to effectively use them to promote your message or, if necessary, to solve for any issues their resistance creates.

Lack of space and support

Change is personal, and employees will need time to work through the change curve. A great way to help ensure success is to communicate to employees what’s in it for them. It might sometimes be hard to find the right message, but if there is some benefit, communicating that can help employees move toward acceptance.

But above all, you should know how best to react when time is of the essence. Acknowledging that change is an emotional process, rather than demanding immediate compliance, can help employees feel respected and supported—which will ultimately influence your project’s success.

Unclear objectives

Too often, companies make changes without enough clarity around what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why. An organization will make a change just because everyone else is doing it, without really thinking about their own objectives. Clarity around those objectives makes communication much easier.

Thus, the communication professional should push leadership to clarify what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why it is important. And if the communication professional can identify what’s in it for the employees, that’s all the better.

Lack of performance measures

Priya’s experience serving as a judge for the IABC’s Gold Quill Awards—which recognize measurable excellence in business communication—has shown her that many projects never actually identify what success looks like. But identifying what success looks like from an executive perspective and a communications perspective can help you work toward and learn from that success.

When you pair that with a measurement strategy—one that includes selecting the right metrics, profiling your audience, understanding your data, and reporting clearly on results—you’re adding real value to your organization. And you’ll be helping this change, and ones to come, surge ahead.

Underestimating emotions

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the dangers of underestimating emotions. The reality is that change is emotional. This understanding gives communication professionals the opportunity and ability to bring those emotions into the conversation.

Start by acknowledging where individuals are along the change curve, and then identify what messaging will help move them along. Not everyone goes through the change curve at the same time or pace.

But too often, organizations use a one-size-fits-all change process and try to pull employees along for the ride. By creating targeted communications that get the right message to the right stakeholder at the right time, you can become a trusted partner to employees, helping them move away from fear toward adoption and commitment.

Communication professionals play a critically important role in change projects. By understanding these six reasons for failure, and implementing strategies to counteract them, communication professionals can help take an organization to successful change.

If you’d like to get more of Priya’s insights, check out her Poppulo webinar Time for Change: A communicator’s role in change programs.


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