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10 Myths About Change Management

As an Organizational Development (OD) and Change Management practitioner, I often find myself having conversations with leaders where I need to address change management myths. Many leadership concerns regarding change management are common issues, though, many are perpetuated by myths.

So what are some of the biggest myths about change management?

  1. Change is easy – No, it’s not. Anyone who tells themselves change is easy has never lived through it or is choosing to pull the wool over their eyes. Change deals with transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state – the unknown. The unknown makes most people a bit anxious. This is normal – though not an easy process for people to go through.
  2. People will do what they’re told – Perhaps they will and perhaps they won’t. For change to be successful you can’t treat your employees and stakeholders like drones. If you expect people to do what they’re told, to help support the change and to commit to the new ways, you need to explain the “why” and the “how.” People need to understand how they will be impacted and what contributions they are making toward creating a better future – for the business as well as themselves.
  3. A plan is enough – Of course a strong change management plan is needed – but a plan is just shelf ware without any action. A plan alone is not enough. A good change management plan must account for governance, communications, training, and ongoing support. The plan needs to be realistic, actionable, and customizable. The plan also needs to be implemented by those skilled in change management in collaboration with trusted stakeholders throughout the organization.
  4. Leadership doesn’t need to be involved in the whole process – This one always makes my eyes roll! Yes, leadership needs to be involved. Change should align to organizational strategy. Leadership knows strategy, they know the direction they want to go; they have the vision (hopefully much of this is translated to the workforce.) When people don’t see leadership involved in the change, and not committed to success, they figure it’s just more lip service or a fancy fad – so why bother getting committed themselves.
  5. Only a few will resist and they can’t derail things – Never underestimate a small determined group of people who have a shared vision. If ‘resistance coalitions’ are forming, that shared vision is probably to preserve the status quo. This can’t be ignored. The concerns of these people, or small groups, must be addressed.
  6. If they resist we get rid of them or minimize their roles – See above! “All resistance is mobilization of energy, not lack of energy. Those who “resist” are “bundles of energy” not passive, lifeless blobs” – Nevis (1998). If you really want your change to be a success then you must find a way to engage the resisters and harness their energy in a positive way. If others see that those resisting the change are getting minimized or let go, they’re likely to say screw it, and start a lil sabotage of their own. Or worse, they could check out all together.
  7. We can make it happen fast – Some change can happen faster than others – but no change can be immediate. If you find a magic wand to wave to make that happen please let me know. Like Kotter says, ‘quick wins.’ However, change overall, particularly deep culture change or transformational change, can’t happen overnight. You need to set realistic expectations regarding the timing of completion and realistic expectations regarding milestones and measurements of success. And whatever you do – don’t give up midway through the process!
  8. Technology will fix the problem – Technology can be helpful, in many ways, but it can also be a hindrance. In cases of technology change it is often easy to lose sight of the people side of change by focusing too much on the technical and process related changes. Many of the change efforts I’ve led involved technology (ERPs) as the enabler or catalyst for change – however that is all technology is – the catalyst. Though technology may fix some of your process and service delivery issues, it’s the people (end users) who are the ones who need to adapt to a new way of doing things.
  9. We don’t need to consult with our customers – I hear this one frequently “…we’re conducting data collection and identified impacted stakeholder groups.” But when I ask, “and how do your customers feel?” I get blank stares. Ok, and what about your customers? Did you conduct data collection from them? Did you ask them how the change is going to impact the way they do business with you? What are customer concerns? In most cases, businesses are changing to better serve their customers – so then why shouldn’t customers be involved in the change process? They should – or at least their opinions and concerns should be heard and addressed.
  10. Some smart person wrote a book with a model that worked great someplace else so we’ll use it here – Many, many, many, many (you get the gist) change management models and frameworks exist. I’ve got shelves full of them, many books by my peers, and most have served useful over the years in one way or another. That said, a one size fits all approach to change is setting yourself up for failure. I almost always mix and match and customize my frameworks and approach. Just because a certain model or framework worked well someplace else doesn’t mean it will work at your organization. Every organization is different, every culture is different, and change management frameworks should be adapted to best suit the organization and type of change.

Change itself is a process – managing it, leading it, achieving it is also a process. To be successful it helps to dispel the myths. So, what are some of the change management myths you’ve experienced?

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth and high performance by creating organizations that are more responsive, effective and productive.

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Hope Horner

Scott–This is great advice and incredibly relevant. I can relate to every one of these points. Here is another myth I have encountered: Change is good.

Nope, not always. Sometimes the change is ill-advised, short-sighted, made for the wrong reasons, etc. Sometimes it doesn’t really address the problem or need and makes things worse. I find that if you have to continually say to your staff “Change is good!” Really! This will be great!” it probably means you are getting resistance and your best bet is to stop and find out why. In this case, it is probably because you have bought into one of the myths you list above. But to automatically assume as a leader that any change is a good change, or change for the sake of change is good, is a myth.

Scott Span

Thanks, Hope. Good one. On the flip side, I would say that change itself is not always bad, however if managed it can certainly feel that way and have negative consequences. And I agree, change for the sake of change, that’s not usually a good thing. Leaders and organizations needs to spend the time to collect data on why they should change, how they should change, when they should change etc. and then make the most educated decision on if to begin a change effort.