A Change Management Journey: Common Mistakes

Take this journey to explore the errors often made during change initiatives. We’ll examine ten common mistakes and you’ll gain ideas on how to make your future journeys smoother transitions.

1. No Destination nor Route

Misunderstood Destination

Without a vision of the future state, people are unclear as to why they are being asked to go on the journey and may feel the destination is unachievable.  Furthermore, the destination is often misunderstood. For example, it is not turning on a new system, it is when people use the new system in the way intended.  That is when benefits are achieved – that is the destination.

Undefined Journey

When a route is defined, people more easily join as they know how they will arrive at the destination. Simply put, it is easier to take the steps on a journey when the directions are clear.

2. Milestones too Far Apart The Long Drive

A change that feels too big can also feel too difficult to achieve.  Getting to the next milestone feels more manageable; aim for the first coffee break, the next lunch stop, making it across the next border or getting a good night’s sleep. 

Missed Celebrations

Not celebrating progress, is a missed opportunity to build momentum. Communicating and celebrating those that contributed to progress along the way makes it feel more achievable. Also, think about how to celebrate the behaviours you are seeking for the future during the journey. 

3. Lack of Sponsorship

More than just Project Management

A project manager is not able to make a project successful alone, no matter how skilled.  When resistance and frustration arise, a strong leader can calm the waters.

Learning Sponsorship

If leading people through change does not come natural for your leader, then help them. Teach them to engage with people, encourage other leaders to support the change and to be supportive to the project team’s activities.

Get more Followership

Leadership helps but getting people to follow others makes for a faster journey.  When people see what the cool kids are doing, they tend to follow. Who are the cool kids in your organization?  Focus on those people first, when they change, others notice and their desire to follow will quicken. Focus on managers, they have a lot of influence over their teams.

4. Focus on Fear

Not another Burning Platform

Using the burning platform concept is common.  It is a story about people making the choice between staying on a burning oil rig or jumping into the burning oil in the sea far below.  That fear is not how you want people to feel. Create urgency, without the emergency.

Missing the Why

People need to know why the change journey is happening. Armed with this crucial information, they are more inclined to contribute to the journey. What is your “why” that has urgency without the people feeling the need to take an emergency exit from your change journey.

5. Communication Breakdown


Misinformation breeds mistrust and negative assumptions which are both worsened when combined with the discomfort of trying new ways of working.

Quality and Quantity

Communication is about quality and quantity.  Too much content lacking focus on the destination or route progress will breed disinterest and confusion.  You only get people’s attention for so long, make it count.  Be honest, avoid hype, and use common language, not corporate speak.

6. Forgetting Feedback

Confirm understanding

Encourage people to ask questions and answer as best you can.  Know it is ok to say you do not know, just be sure to share when you think you will be able to report back then follow through.

Ignoring Passengers

If you want people to arrive at the destination with you, then ask for their opinions at the start of the journey. Then keep that conversation going.  People will share ideas that you alone will not conceive. People who give input have a stronger sense of ownership in the path ahead.

7. Failure to Train

Not a Solitary Journey

Letting people learn as they go will not guarantee they reach their destination.  Your destination is defined in terms of specific new behaviours, train on that and repeat to make it a habit. 

Leaving Training in the Classroom

Training goes far beyond the classroom; it is about making the new ways of working a part of the day to day.  It is about identifying the behaviours of the future and teaching that as well as the technical skills such as how to use systems and new processes.

8. Skipping the Emotional Connections

Evoking Emotions

Rational solutions only take us so far. An emotional connection can help people arrive at the destination in first class style.  Storytelling is one of the best ways to make an emotional connection.

A Good Story

In her book “The Story Factor”, Annette Simmons explains how stories help motivate people to change by purposefully leveraging emotions.  Here is a summary of one of her examples:

  • Fact based motivation: “We spent $500,000 last year on work gloves; let’s reduce costs.” 
  • Story based motivation:  In a budget meeting, pairs of gloves were dumped on the expansive boardroom table, each tagged with the price paid. Leaders from factors across the nation examined the pile, noticing that while the quality of each was similar, the cost ranged from $5 up to a whopping $35 a pair.  They then learned the gloves were each procured in their factories. With the bad purchasing decisions apparent, they immediately began to share solution ideas. 

The glove story is long remembered when the budget fact is fast forgotten. Even better, the story demonstrated by the gloves on the table incited an emotional response that drove leaders to solve the problem themselves. 

9. Measurement Mistakes

Success Measures

When you define the new behaviours of the future, also define measures that tell you those behaviours are alive and well. It can be difficult to find measurements, so dig deep.


Incentive based motivation is common and works well to drive behaviour. Ensure your incentives are based on the new behaviours, not the old.

10. Resisting Resistance

The Conversations

Understand resistance and get comfortable knowing that it is coming soon to a change journey near you.  It might sound like this: “Are we there yet?”, “Let’s go back, the journey is too long.”, “We made it halfway, this is good enough; I don’t want to go further.” 

Find Comfort

It is simple.  What we know is comfortable and we lean to comfort.  We lean away from the new ways of working as we might not be as good at it; we feel less productive and less of an expert. We can become moody, less focused, less likely to trust and more likely to complain.  So find a more comfortable path forward.

Lead to Comfort

As a leader, stop resisting the resistance.  You might think your project is doomed when morale sinks, but really it is progressing normally.  Focus on how to make the journey and the new ways of working more comfortable.  Give people the support they need.

  • Use the progress of achieving each milestone, to bring people to the next one. 
  • Use storytelling to inspire people. 
  • Use effective communications for consistency, clarity and why there is a need to change. 
  • Use adult learning based training to build the skills of the future.
  • Use feedback; if you ask people how to best support them, they will give you great ideas.

Join the conversation


  1. It’s such as you read my thoughts! You appear to know so much about this, such as you wrote the book on it or something. I feel that you just could do with a few percent to power the message home a little bit; this is wonderful blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back. Claudelle Holmes Doretta

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