Why Your Change Management Efforts Keep Failing

Last verified May 6, 2021

Sure, you know that making changes at work can be difficult, but at your company, it seems like it’s nearly impossible. Plenty of great ideas come through the pipeline, but for whatever reason, the execution always seems to fall apart. Some changes get close to being done, then end up fizzling out right toward the end. Others never seem to make it past the ideation stage. You may think that the idea itself just isn’t strong enough, but most of the time, the opposite is true. The change you want to make is great, but the way you handle change management is the problem.

Change is important to stay competitive, but surprisingly, a lot of businesses are just plain bad at handling it. In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of organizational changes fail. Change and innovation are absolutely necessary for businesses that want to grow and thrive. That’s why we’re making May change management month on the Guru blog, so keep checking back throughout the next few weeks for tips, insights, and help.

It’s hard to fix change management problems at work if you don’t know what causes the process to break down in the first place.

Before we dive into the right way to handle the process, let’s take some time to dive into common reasons why changes never seem to stick at work.

George Costanza is down
You should strive for Costanza-level buy-in

You haven’t created buy-in

Even though it’s easy for you to see the value in the changes you’re trying to make, it may not be so clear to everyone else. Remember, while you’ve been spending time researching potential solutions and making suggestions, everyone else has just been going about their regular work. 

Don’t underestimate the power of buy-in at work. Having employees and managers on your side when you’re trying to make changes, whether they’re big or small, is absolutely critical. 

One of the biggest hurdles associated with buy-in is creating a sense of urgency. People may be able to understand why the changes you’re proposing are valuable, but they may not see why they need to act now. After all, if things have been going relatively smoothly at work, why is there a need to change everything now?

The best way to create buy-in for change is proof. Always go in with evidence to back up your plans. Look for statistics and case studies to back up your claims. Research direct competitors that are ahead of the curve and have already made some big (and similar) changes on their own. Get feedback from customers and/or other employees.

Philip J Fry banana
The Philip J. Fry Method may be intriguing, but it's not ideal

There’s no clear measure for success

Let’s say all of your key stakeholders signed off on your plan and you’ve gone through the entire process of rolling your proposed change out. How would you know that that change you just went through was a total success?

Remember, success and completion are two very different things.

If your change management plans aren’t tied to measurable metrics, proving that your change was the right thing to implement will be difficult (and could make it harder to justify changes in the future). 

Are you having trouble coming up with key metrics to measure success? Take time to think back to why you wanted to make changes in the first place. Maybe after a particularly messy release, you thought that the dev team could use better process documentation around QA. Your measure for success could be a decrease in bugs found post-release or faster fix rollouts. 

Also, make sure that you pick measures for success that stakeholders find valuable. Tie all of your plans back to a company objective or goal for a one-two punch of creating buy-in and measuring success. 

David from Schitt's Creek is saying it's too much
Take a lesson from David and learn your limits

You want to achieve too much in a short amount of time

We did say that it’s important to create urgency in change management, but you also need to have realistic expectations. 

Think about everything that needs to go into changing one “simple” process at work. You need to brainstorm solutions and involve potential stakeholders. You may have to test out several products or solutions before you settle on one. Then you have to factor in costs, dependencies, and other things that could dramatically slow down your work. 

Adapting to a new process, product, or program takes a good amount of time too. Managers and employees may need special training for things to go smoothly.

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to adapt to a change quickly, but people will need time to adjust. 

Time may be of the essence, but you can’t expect everything to be done in a day. Instead of planning to go all-in on one big change, consider taking an incremental approach to what you want to do. Planning things out in stages can make the entire process less chaotic, and it gives you time to make adjustments to your plans for the best possible outcome.

Michael Scott saying no
Resistance is natural...and sometimes loud

People are resistant to change

One key stakeholder had an employer from 10 years ago try to make similar changes and the whole project went down in flames. Your manager is bogged down with work and the last thing they want on their plate is a new project. You’ve been parking in the VP's favorite spot for the past week and there’s no way they’re going to sign off on anything you want. 

We could do an entire series of posts on all of the reasons why people resist change, but the truth is that breaking through long-held biases and beliefs can be hard. The best thing you can do to get your plans off the ground is to create a solid case for why they need to happen. 

This ties a bit into what we said before about creating buy-in. It’ll be difficult for even the most change-resistant people to say no if you’ve clearly outlined all of the good your change can do. 

That’s why we recommend using tried and true ADKAR method for winning people over. 

What is ADKAR?

ADKAR is a change management methodology (and acronym) developed by Prosci. At its core, the methodology breaks down exactly what needs to happen for a successful change at work: 


Focus on the best ways to showcase each part of ADKAR to win over change-resistant stakeholders. When you show that you’re internally prepared to make a change and that you have a solid plan, you’re setting yourself up to get the go-ahead to move forward. 

Too many plugs in one outlet in the simpson's house
Re-evaluate your tech stack before you start a real or metaphorical fire

You don’t have the right set up or tools

You say you have a completed and well-documented plan that can clearly point out everything you need to do to make your proposed change happen. Okay great, can you show it to us?

If your plan is to tell us to wait for 30 minutes while you find everything and then send two somewhat complete outlines that may or may not be the final version of your plan, you aren’t ready to make a big change. 

Organization and the right toolsets are absolutely crucial when you’re trying to make changes at work. After all, if your process and documentation aren’t together, you can’t expect your change efforts to make any impact. 

It’s up to you to pick the right tools for your work, but we highly recommend having one source of truth for everything in your project. When you don’t have one source of truth, things aren’t just disorganized, it tends to make people work in silos. You lose overall transparency into everyone’s work and eventually, you lose important insight into progress. 

People should be able to easily find updates on the project progress, a list of what tools they need to use to do work, and any insight needed to keep things moving. Luckily for you, there’s already a tool that can do all of these things and more. 

Woman saying that change is good

Embrace change

Altering your approach to change management can do wonders for bringing about actual change at work. When you take the time to focus on building your case, follow the right metrics, and make an organized plan you’re doing a lot to set yourself up for success. 

Are you ready to make a big change at work? Start using Guru to handle change management the right way.