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Opinion: Avoid these 5 mistakes that derail successful change

Business Shifts

Posted online

Possessing a change-capable leadership style is beneficial when it comes to handling the sheer volume and velocity of change today.

Ultimately, business challenges to an organization require effective change, or they risk being vulnerable to competitive and market forces. Surprisingly, many leaders lack knowing what to do and what not to do when leading change. There are common mistakes that leaders should avoid, beginning with these five.

1. Underestimating how change has changed. Once upon a time, leaders could work on one change at a time. For instance, they might organize a project team to implement a new business process, launch a product or revamp quality control. Time was plentiful for managers to assess the problem, plot a solution and implement a course of action.

Now, however, there’s a dizzying amount of change for managers to handle. In addition to their own job duties, they may have to deal with new product launches, global markets, foreign currencies and government regulations, competitor tactics, changing customer demands or labor issues.

2. Viewing resistance to change negatively. In a recent interview, I asked change expert Barbara Trautlein, CEO of Change Catalysts, for her insights on the mistakes by leaders managing change.

“Leaders often view employee resistance to change adversely, as if it’s a challenge to their authority. Unfortunately, some leaders then react by pushing harder to force change on their people,” Trautlein said.

Pushing change rather than gaining support can result in disengagement and half-hearted efforts. According to her company’s research, “The primary reason employees resist change is that they don’t have enough information to feel comfortable. Employees want to know ... why it’s important to make change right now.”

Resistance will diminish if leaders communicate the “what” and the “why” behind change.

3. Misjudging the speed of change. There are two problems to avoid. First, don’t presume change is occurring slowly in your industry or in your customers’ industries. This can be unfortunate because eventually the market forces you to change or to die trying.

The second mistake is to assume change will occur quickly once everyone understands what’s expected. According to Trautlein, “We can’t motivate people to change unless we create an environment for change to occur and then give people sufficient time to adapt to the desired changes.”

4. Neglecting the importance of support. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found unsuccessful change initiatives came from leaders who focused exclusively on results and overlooked providing the necessary employee support for change.

“The Secrets of a Winning Culture” co-author Larry Senn said, “Most change initiatives focus on the operational and technical side. What they too often ignore is the human side – the behavioral side of change.” Leaders can support employee change efforts by giving them the time and resources to implement planned changes.

5. Failing to execute effectively. Execution requires an effective process to guide the organization from start to finish. Trautlein believes leaders get little to no training on how to execute change: “Very few leaders have the knowledge and the skill to achieve or sustain vital change.”

In her book “Change Intelligence,” she stresses leaders can learn to lead lasting change by identifying their change leadership style and then leveraging their strengths and shore up their weak spots. Her book provides a free change leadership assessment and individualized report with recommended actions to improve. It’d be good to get your hands on something similar.

Leaders are the main catalyst to make change that sticks. Avoiding the common mistakes that derail success will improve your results.

Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at


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