The link between effective change management and project success is proven – the better the change management, the more projects meet their objectives*.

No matter the size or the scale of the change, whenever people need to do things differently, change management is essential to equip and support them in successfully adopting change.

For the absence of doubt, when we talk about change management, we mean a structured set of activities focused on helping people through change.

But what does effective change management look like?

In this blog, I cover the most common change management mistakes and provide some thoughts on how to avoid them.

Number 5 on a green background

The 5 most common mistakes in change management

  1. Poor sponsorship support
  2. Not explaining why change is necessary
  3. Not listening to or engaging employees
  4. Underestimating resistance to change
  5. Leaving change management too late



1. Poor sponsorship support

Prosci’s research shows that having an active and engaged sponsor is the single most significant contributor to project success or lack of it.

When a sponsor who does not understand the role properly or cannot commit to driving through the change is appointed, the project is likely to fail.

To ensure an engaged sponsor:

  • Carefully consider the selection criteria for your sponsor, e.g. do they have sufficient authority and influence in the business, are they passionate about the change and the future vision? Do they understand how difficult change is?
  • At the start of a project, make sure the sponsor fully understands what is expected of them in their role, e.g. they need to be prepared to tackle resistance, able to dedicate time to engage in the change and have accountability for benefits delivery
  • Educate the sponsor on what good looks like e.g. role modelling new behaviours, delivering active and visible leadership, supporting the team to remove blockers. Provide ongoing support or coaching as appropriate.

2. Not explaining why change is necessary

Paying insufficient attention to explaining the need for change to those involved will result in confusion, poor buy-in, and even active resistance. A shared understanding of the vision and benefits of the change needs to be clearly and regularly communicated to build and sustain momentum.

To embed an understanding of the need for change

  • Take time at the start of the project to articulate the compelling narrative or the ‘case for change.’
  • Make sure that the sponsor, senior stakeholders and the project team are aligned on the narrative
  • Use the case for change to underpin the communication strategy, ensuring a single consistent message on the need for change
  • Explain the benefits in ways that are meaningful for employees to engage hearts and minds

3. Not listening to or engaging employees

If the concerns of employees are not addressed, their opinions are not sought, or they are not encouraged to become involved in building new solutions, it is likely they will resist the change. There will undoubtedly be a lack of motivation and commitment to make it happen.

To avoid resistance and secure commitment from employees

  • Go further than one-way ‘broadcast’ communications. Make sure there are ample opportunities to engage with employees at each stage. Listen and seek their opinions and demonstrate that they have been heard through action
  • Work with the relevant business teams to find opportunities to involve them in project activities e.g. process design, systems selection.Make the teams impacted part of the solution, so they do not feel “done to”
  • Appoint change champions to provide a bridge between the project and impacted functions/teams and to advocate and support the project. They will work with their area to understand the impact of change, provide input into training and communications, and act as a positive force for change

4. Underestimating resistance to change

Insufficient effort to get key stakeholders to voice their objections can be detrimental to project success. Silence is often assumed to be acceptance, whereas, in reality, it can be a sign of lack of engagement, resulting in objections raised at the point of implementation when it is too late.

Bringing together strong leadership and visible support from key people helps to build urgency and support around the need for change.

To identify and address stakeholder resistance to change

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of stakeholder management. Spend time listening to and understanding key stakeholders. Enlist others to help with this and do it every day
  • Ask direct and pointed questions if necessary to identify resistance and confirm commitment: “Are you committed to making this change in your area? And if not, why not?”
  • Take action quickly to improve engagement and remove barriers
  • Check for any difficulties throughout the project e.g. in regular meetings, formal readiness assessments or informal temperature taking

5. Leaving change management too late

A final mistake we commonly see is not thinking about change management early enough in the project.

By the time we approach implementation, people need to have moved along the change journey from initial awareness that a change is coming to an increased ability and enthusiasm to implement that change effectively. This takes time, planning and engagement with people.

To ensure change management is in place from the start

  • Don’t rush into designing the ‘what’ of the project e.g. systems and process changes, without considering the people who need to adopt the change
  • Engage people in shaping the change and helping them through the personal process of change
  • Appoint change roles with appropriate skills, in addition to project roles to develop the Change Management plan e.g. Change Manager
  • Before starting the initiative, assess change capability in the organisation and any upskilling required of leaders, Project Managers, Change Managers and line managers in relation to the role they will play in leading or receiving change

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but addressing these five areas will make a difference in delivering effective change management and realising the overall benefits of the change. 

Our final note is to say that it can be tempting, once a change is implemented, to turn attention to the next project before the change is part of a new business as usual. This is perhaps the greatest post-change management mistake.

To ensure people don’t slip back into familiar ways or fail to adopt new systems or processes fully, Change Management plans need to have actions to embed change and longer-term accountability of benefits. Alongside this, keep focused on a culture of continuous improvement and gathering lessons learned to build on what went well and identify what can be done differently in the future. 

*6 times more likely, according to Prosci’s 10-year study of 2,000 change initiatives

Image (c) Shutterstock | buritora | osm shop

Read the follow-up to this blog: More change management mistakes and why they matter. 

Charlotte Gatehouse