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Explore 20 ways of how not to implement change in organizations. Change is demanding and challenging, so knowing how not to implement change in organizations will enable you to plug any change management gaping holes in your organization’s change strategy.

How Not to Implement Change in Organizations: 20 Way

By Catherine Adenle

Knowing how not to implement change in organizations will save your organization from expensive and frustrating cycles of unsuccessful organizational change.

Change is vital for organizations. It helps organizations to stay at the forefront of any emerging technological advancements. Transforming any business in line with new technologies helps it to edge out its competitors. Consequently, organizations, as well as the whole world, are developing at an accelerated pace. What’s hot today might be obsolete tomorrow. For instance, almost all what our parents used to do by hand in the past has now been automated. As change is constant everywhere and all the time, there is no escaping it wherever we turn as long as we are alive.

Companies that are unable to adapt to the pace of change will be left behind or forgotten. Needless to say that change is needed by all organisations in order to survive. However, knowing how to manage change and how not to implement change in organizations is extremely important. In practical terms though, change management is highly challenging for most organizations including reputable ones.

Change strategy requires the involvement of managers and employees

In any large organization, change is demanding unless it’s thoughtfully planned, initiated and executed. When change happens in a complex organization, it poses a double whammy challenge of perilously courting several change management woes. If not managed, change may make a reputable organization join countless other organizations on the pinnacle of ‘failure to launch’ change heap.

Centuries ago, when Niccolo Machiavelli said, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” he was unquestionably certain in his belief that implementing change isn’t easy and that is just as true today as it was hundreds of years ago.

A study by Towers Watson found that only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term.  Some highlights from the study, the 2013 Change and Communication ROI Survey, which involved 276 large and midsize organizations from North America, Europe and Asia are:

  • Employers felt 55% of change management initiatives met initial objectives, but only 25% felt gains were sustained over time.
  • 87% of respondents trained their managers to “manage change,” but a miserable 22% felt the training was actually effective.
  • 68% of senior managers said they’re “getting the message” about reasons for major organizational changes, but that figure falls to 53% for middle managers and 40% for front-line supervisors.

With what I know and have experienced about change, Towers Watson figures are unfortunately reasonable to me.

In a study, John P. Kotter, a Harvard professor, found that around 70% of transformation efforts fail. One fundamental contributing factor is opposition by employees. According to another study by the Federal Association of German Corporate Consultants (BDU), 70% of employees hate changes.

See 12 Reasons Why Employees Resist Change in the Workplace

How questions as well as why change may fail are both equally vital

Any successful change strategy requires the eager involvement of managers and employees. However, in some organizations, when a change has to be implemented, top management is always quick to jump to “how” – How do we execute it? How do we get people to be enthusiastic about it? How do we measure it? How do we keep the momentum going?  These “how” questions go on and on.

While this is an understandable way to go about change in organizations, I’d argue that something as complex as change requires more progressive thinking of “why the change may fail.” The reasons gathered should now represent what the organization need to guide against before they initiate and execute change. This can offer valuable lessons as well as be the reason why a change effort will succeed. Given the costs, efforts and difficulties involved in the change to unlock unrealized value, it’s fair to ask the question, “Have we identified reasons why this change could fail?”

See Change Management in Organisations: How to Get it Right First Time

20 Ways of how not to implement change

  1. Embarking on change for change’s sake
  2. Authoritarian leadership style and behaviours
  3. Zero readiness for change
  4. Lack of resources and budget
  5. No role definition and accountability for
  6. Lack of stakeholder analysis before, during and after the change
  7. Poor communication and lack of it
  8. Lack of positive reinforcement
  9. Inadequate leadership participation and support
  10. Lack of change mitigation plans
  11. Employee engagement is non-existing
  12. Poor change management skills and knowledge
  13. Lack of reward and recognition
  14. Rushed change effort
  15. Lack of support for employees
  16. Unaligned business structure and systems
  17. No powerful coalition team for change
  18. Absence of vision
  19. Bypassing the 3 stages of change: initiation, implementation, continuation
  20. No prior pilot of change effort through collaborations before change roll out


1. Embarking on change for change’s sake – No organization should embark on change if the business environment doesn’t demand it or if there’s no vision behind the change. The idea that an organization needs change for its own sake often provokes scepticism among employees.

Agreed, a company periodically needs to shake itself up, regardless of the competitive landscape. Still, it is important that there should be a compelling reason for the change. Emotional distress comes with any change introduced in organizations, why inflict all that pain on employees and other stakeholders if an organization doesn’t have to?

2. Authoritarian leadership style and behaviours – In most organizations, change won’t go anywhere without executive buy-in and ongoing support. However, on the ground, a bottom-up change execution is terrific for innovation, participation and employees’ morale. Leaders being authoritative in their leadership style and executing an egotistical ‘what I say goes’ behaviours is a key way of how not to implement change in organizations.

3. Zero readiness for change – There is the need for a process to determine an organization’s potential commitment and acceptance to the effect of any change being planned. This will allow the organisation to understand how employees will respond to the change as well as help the organization to know potential barriers that will affect the implementation of the change. In addition, it’s reassuring and vital to know who will own the change, what potential resistance to the change may be experienced, how to provide the leadership to effectively manage the change and what change strategy will be utilized when implementing the change. All of these combined will help an organization to determine if they are change ready before the change is initiated.

See Leading Change? 10 Crippling Reasons Why Employees Will Resist

4. Lack of resources and budget – A major element of how not to implement change in organizations is not to allocate resources and budget to change. Lack of resources translates to frustration that can easily derail the best change initiative in any organization. If a change effort is going to succeed, then the right resources need to be aligned in order to make change success possible.

That means that people, processes, systems, finances, training, and operations need to be realigned so that an organization has the right people in the right place with the right resources, budget and the right capacity to make change effort optimally successful and sustainable. If any of these items are misaligned, the probability of initiating and completing a successful change initiative will significantly decrease. No sustainable change can take place without resources and budget!

Infographic: 20 Ways of How Not to Manage Change in Organization

5. No role definition and accountability for change – A classic way of how not to implement change is for an organization not to make anyone accountable for change. Change means new ways of working, restructuring, reorganization, streamlining, new products, new systems, new services, merging, downsizing etc. Hence change can also mean layoffs, reassignments, transfers, merging or cause other impacts for employees. Who will ensure that change is on track? Who is monitoring change to ensure that it delivers the expected results? Who is keeping all the balls in the air? Roles and responsibilities are vital during change implementation.

6. Lack of stakeholder analysis before, during and after change – How not to implement change is by not allowing for a stakeholder analysis of the change. Stakeholders are the people who matter to any change effort. Analysis before, during and after a change will help an organization to understand and weigh how the change will affect the organization and people. It is particularly useful in identifying the winners and losers of change as well as it highlights the challenges that the organization face in order to change behaviours, develop capabilities and tackle major issues.

There are various approaches to stakeholder analysis before, during and after a change.

A ten-step process seems to work well:

  1. Develop purpose and procedures of analysis and initial understanding of the vision of change
  2. Identify key stakeholders and what they bring to the change and how it affects them
  3. Investigate stakeholders’ interests, characteristics and circumstances
  4. Identify patterns and contexts of interaction between stakeholders
  5. Assess stakeholders’ accountability, power and potential roles
  6. Assess options, timelines and communications, use the findings to make progress
  7. Decide what success will look like and how to measure it
  8. Identify and plan to mitigate change challenges including resistance
  9. Gauge the level of support for change and determine how to increase support
  10. Use the result of analysis to assist with key decision making

See How New Age Organizations Involve and Support Employees During Change

7. Poor communication and lack of feedback – This is another crucial one of the 20 ways of how not to implement change in organizations. No successful change can take place without effective communication. An organization must establish clear lines of communication and engage employees in change discussions. It is, after all, the employees who will be doing most of the leg work to make change stick. So, it is imperative that they understand the aims and objectives of any change. Employees must also be clear on why the change has been introduced, how it will be implemented, who will be involved, the timelines and how success will be measured. Organizations can make use of their popular employees with potential who can encourage their colleagues to embrace change to be the ones to communicate consistent change messages.

8. Lack of positive reinforcement – Positive reinforcement is the practice of rewarding desirable employee behaviour in order to strengthen that behaviour. Praising employees for doing a good job during change will increase the likelihood of them doing another job well again during change. Positive reinforcement both shapes behaviour and enhances an employee’s self-confidence and image. Recognizing and rewarding desirable employee behaviour during change is an essential key to motivating employees to be more productive during change.

When an organization shows appreciation and reward employees for good work, they increase job commitment and organizational loyalty. To reinforce successfully, you need to define exactly what it is that constitutes desirable behaviour during change. You should then set specific, measurable work goals with each employee or with the entire team, and then decide together, which behaviours are most important for achieving the results desired.

See Change Management: Critical Skills for Leaders

9. Inadequate leadership participation and support – This is a key way of how not to implement change in organizations. Change can look seamless because of visible and effective leadership or sponsorship. By emphasizing, demonstrating or stating their own personal commitment and determination to make change happen, leaders can influence the course of change. Inadequate leadership or the behaviour of leaders can derail any change and it is one of the biggest obstacles to successful change and its implementation in organizations. Not only can leaders fail to manage their organizations’ change effectively, but their behaviours can also certainly make things worse. Change management is a challenge when leaders across organizations are not willing to support or cheer-lead change. A study by Gilley et al. shed some light on specific leader behaviours that are needed for effective organizational change. The study surveyed 513 working professionals across various industries. One of the findings of the study was that 80% of respondents reported that their leaders never, rarely or only sometimes implement change effectively.

10. Lack of change mitigation plans – When it comes to change, the challenges of its implementation in organizations vary depending on geography, industry, value, principles and objectives. For this reason, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensure a successful change effort. When considering large-scale change, organizations must understand their own specific situation and plan their approach to the implementation of change accordingly. With this plan comes solid mitigation plans. Who is likely to resist or fence-sit the change and why? What can derail change? Are there reasons why change will not stick over time? How do we ensure that change is successful? These are the questions an organization’s mitigation plans must answer.

See 12 Reasons Why Employees Resist Change in the Workplace.

11. Employee engagement is non-existing – You can’t implement change without engaging employees. When change is announced, employees fear the unknown because they’ve grown accustomed to certain processes and procedures. Gaining more responsibilities and taking on new or additional tasks can be daunting for them, no matter how well briefed they are. So, the best way to overcome this fear is to give employees the opportunity to participate or play crucial roles in the change. It’s vital to also provide them with clear information and embark on regular dialogues.

“The man who gets the most satisfactory results is not always the man with the most brilliant single mind, but rather the man who can best coordinate the brains and talents of his associates.” – W. Alton Jones

See 20 Rules of Successful Change Management in Organizations

12. Poor change management skills and knowledge – According to a study by Xpert HR, nearly two-thirds of employers indicated that a lack of in-house change management expertise was an issue during their most recent change programmes.

Good change implementation is not magic. It is rather a skill like any other. The skill is underpinned by strong capabilities, people and project management plus sound organizational practices.

Managing change is tough; a major way of how not to implement change is having little agreement on what factors most influence an organization’s change initiatives. Ask four company managers who are usually tasked with change implementation to name the one factor critical for the success of their change program, and you’ll probably get four different answers. That’s because each manager looks at an initiative from his or her viewpoint based on personal experience or focus on different success factors.

As rightly said by Arthur Friedman, “…Think of an organization as all the clothes hanging on a clothesline. All parts are connected. If you pull on the socks the towels move…” You must be fully prepared as an organization to deal with any ripple effect when you manage change. So, an organization needs skilled managers to handle change.

For this reason, most change-ready companies now have Change Managers and Change Agents to help manage change.

These are 10 key skills for effective change management for managers:

  1. Driving and managing change
  2. People management and interpersonal skills
  3. Communication skills
  4. Project management skills
  5. Coaching and developing others
  6. Creativity and innovation
  7. Personal resilience
  8. Networking
  9. Ability to follow-through
  10. Organizational skills

The best managers involve employees in change. They only start change initiatives they can see through to the end, and they track change progress in the same robust way they track operational business performance.

A study by Gilley et al. shed some light on specific leader behaviours that are needed for effective organizational change. The study surveyed 513 working professionals across various industries. One of the findings of the study was that 80% of respondents reported that their leaders never, rarely or only sometimes implement change effectively.

13. Lack of reward and recognition – Generally, lack of reward for anything is demotivating. If an organization is demanding new behaviours from employees but recognition and rewards remain aligned to the old ways of doing things, then that’s begging for failure. If an organization should introduce new ways of doing things without training, promoting and upgrading the skills of their employees, then change will not yield expected results. Any change implementation ought to include a motivational component like promotion, pay increase, new responsibilities, linking rewards to performance etc.

Motivating employees can lead to increased productivity and allow an organization to achieve higher levels of output during change. Motivation is generally what energizes, maintains, and controls behaviour.

Salary is often not enough motivation to keep employees working for an organization, as it’s not always enough to push them to fulfil their full potential and be open to change. Motivated employees will retain a high level of innovation while producing higher-quality work at a higher level of efficiency. Remember, some employees are already feeling threatened by change, not rewarding or supporting such employees will affect the result of the change. All change-ready organizations achieve measurable financial benefits that are sustained way after initial implementation of change.

14. Rushed change effort – Change is tough! Look back on a change initiative that hasn’t worked in your organization. Have you ever caught yourself saying, “We shouldn’t have rushed the change, we should have been more prepared,” or “If only we’d done a proper plan, we could have….”

Exploring change from a failure perspective will allow you to learn, but change failure is costly. There are so many variables to consider in any change project and so many things that can go wrong if a change effort is rushed.

15. Lack of support for employees – Change is a fact of life in organizations and communities. When considering any type of major change in an organization, the people aspect of the change must not be neglected. Why? Change involves people to make a change and also make change happen.

As an organization, while your competition can copy virtually every other advantage you have, they cannot copy your people or the results they achieve for your organization. If your employees are not supported during change, implementation will be a myth. Remember, organizations don’t change, people do!



16. Unaligned business structure and systems – At Towers Watson, the professional services company, they define change management as the actions an organisation takes to ensure business, employees’ readiness and alignment of the structure as well as a business when changes are rolled out. They see taking actions to get all these things ready for any type of change as the key to building a more agile and responsive organisation and to help ensure change success.

If a change effort is going to succeed, then the right business structure and systems need to be in place in order to make change success possible.

That means that people, systems, training, and operations structure need to be realigned so that an organization has the right things in the right place with the right resources, people, budget and the right capacity to make change effort optimally successful and sustainable.

17. No powerful coalition team for change – Forming a powerful coalition will ensure that you have a team with the expertise to assist with achieving the outcomes you need from the change initiative.

Change execution is challenging, without the right people to help, any change effort will stall and an organization can miss important perspectives and information.

Watch John Kotter talk through some of the issues related to forming a guiding coalition during change.

A guiding coalition is a group of change leaders, with an important role to play. They are involved in setting the direction for the change, identifying options and making decisions about where attention should be focused, as well as gathering support and resources from other parts of the organisation. Having the right team to lead the change initiative is critical to its success.

18. Absence of vision – All of these elements: vision, motivation and knowledge will allow for a solid action plan. Not having all of these elements is how not to implement change in organizations. If there’s no action plan, there is no change! An action plan is required to allow for successful change implementation.

Individuals and leaders must be responsible for making sure that each change strategy or initiative comes to fruition. When organizations are not clear on the root cause for change, change efforts will be derailed. Leaders need to have a strong change vision for the end game they want their organization to achieve. They have to know what the outcome of change looks and feels like. They need to also know how the change will impact operations, employee engagement, customer service, other stakeholders and other relevant aspects of how they do business. There is a need to have a vision that will clearly and simply get communicated to employees. It needs to have an element of inspiration to secure buy-in from employees.

Part of how to implement change is adding future dates to each operational item like key results and milestones, forming a communications plan and allocating resources.

A change action plan should answer the five W’s (What, Why, Who, When, Where) and one H (How). Part of the action plan is utilizing a useful tool, ‘TROPICS’ which will help to anticipate different reactions and counter potential resistance. It allows one to get a feel for the nature of a particular change and plan an appropriate strategy:

T: Time scales – Defined? Is change implementation short or long term?

R: Resources – What will be needed for the change?

O: Objectives – Are these quantifiable or not? How could these be explained clearly?

P: Perceptions – Does everyone see this issue the same way?

I: Interest – Who has an ‘interest’ in making change happen and who may want to keep things the same?

C: Control – Who holds the power?

S: Source – Who is driving this proposal, internal or external source?

If you don’t first get people to emotionally connect with a vision for change, how can you expect them to follow? Clearly communicating the vision for change is vital. More importantly, you need to communicate how the change will impact people on an individual level and what change will look like and feel like.

19. Bypassing the 3 stages of change: initiation, implementation, continuation – Change management is a systematic method to transition individuals from a current mode of operation into a new one. Change is common in the business world today, effective change management process and skills are necessary for a business to succeed. Any change initiative where the change agent fails to plan for these 3 change stages will fail. A baby can’t learn to walk by not crawling first.

Before beginning a new change effort, companies need to assess the skills, strengths and weaknesses in these areas to make sure they and their people, especially change champions are set up for success. Bypassing the three stages of change is a major one of the how not to implement change.

There are 3 stages to change execution:

  1. Initiation – the process leading up to the change.
  2. Implementation – the first experiences of change
  3. Continuation – the change becomes embedded.

If these 3 stages of change are not properly observed and planned for, change may not achieve its results.

Successful Change Implementation in Organizations (Infographic)

*Infographic inspired by Braden Kelley's Five Keys to Successful Change and reproduced with permission


20. No prior pilot of change effort through collaborations before change roll out – No one person can manage change alone. This is the reason why there’s the need for collaborations.

In organizations, making use of meaningful collaborations, focus groups, change champions and agents is paramount. Organizations need to get their teams together to determine how to best pilot a major change first. This is vital in order to achieve maximum return on investment (ROI) and return on equity (ROE) of the change efforts.

So, for any major change, there’s is a lot to gain by the organization if they implement change in bite-size chunks especially if the change doesn’t involve any sell-offs, redundancies or swift bankruptcy. This way, there is latitude in honing change implementation capabilities and utilizing lessons learnt to move ahead and achieve successful change.

Now that you have explored these 20 ways of how not to implement change, how have you implemented a successful change before or what are you going to do differently in future? Let’s hear from you. Leave your comments below.

Catherine Adenle
Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers. Gladly helping all career-minded people worldwide to explore their career, manage change and understand how new technologies are changing and enhancing the future of work.
Catherine Adenle
Catherine Adenle

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