Four Frequently Overlooked Risks in Change Management

Whether your organization is implementing a new hybrid workplace model, merging with another company, or executing a new strategy, change management is critical to successful organizational transformation.

Leaders often focus on communicating the end state’s vision and benefits when leading organizations through significant changes. However, many additional risks to a comprehensive change management plan should be considered.

I have worked with many clients to help identify risks and craft strategies to address them—to arrive at the organization’s new end state faster.

From my experience, here are the most common barriers to transformational change.

Lack of an Enduring, Focused Communication Strategy

When asked whether they believed their organizations’ strategies were actionable, middle managers and individual contributors consistently scored lower than executives. Leaders know the importance of communicating change, but they frequently overestimate the impact of their efforts.

Regarding your communication strategy, an organization-wide email cannot be your only change management communication. A recent Microsoft study on email rates showed that only 40% of employees would read more than 30% of any given internal email.

Another critical factor in driving buy-in and engagement to organizational strategy changes is ensuring individual teams understand how their goals contribute to overall organizational success. Leaders must communicate corporate strategy in a way that helps teams tie their goals to organizational outcomes while leaning on managers and network influencers to reinforce those messages.

Read more about being the Chief Reminder Officer

Inadvertently Excluding Network Influencers

Ensuring that your organization’s leaders are aligned and bought into the organizational change is critical to successful change management – but what about informal leaders?

Network influencers can be found at all levels of an organization and frequently fly under the radar of executive leadership in large organizations. Because network influencers often act as information brokers and influence how others perceive the organization, they should be identified and considered in your change management efforts.

Identifying key influencers and collaborators to determine who should be prioritized for in-office return can also help drive productivity and ramp up the success rates of your organization’s change efforts.

Read about informal leadership.

Failing to Establish and Clarify New Team Boundaries

Failing to establish new working relationships, ownership, and cultural norms often presents one of the largest sources of frustration in organizational change. Depending on the nature of the transformation, teams can experience massive changes in processes and working relationships that are difficult to predict and coordinate.

From a risk perspective, poor coordination can lead to frustration, damaged relationships, and, ultimately, mistrust in leadership.

To prevent your organization from being blindsided by operational risks and missed handoffs, consider running a decision space exercise or a red team exercise with subject matter experts and division leaders who are changing divisions.

Not Collecting Bottom-Up Feedback

In all large organizations, frontline employees have valuable insights that are frequently overlooked.

During times of transformational change, your frontline can serve as real-time resources and feedback mechanisms to monitor the progress of your new initiatives or efforts. However, many organizations need more capability to provide frontline employees with a way of escalating and delivering insights to leadership.

Failing to consider your frontline can potentially slow your reaction time to challenges such as new competitors and threats, and overestimating your company’s ability can lull you into false security.

In the long term, the risk is that your people will lose trust in leadership, and you will experience lower productivity, low psychological safety, high turnover, and stifled innovation.

Read about eliminating Top Down supervision

While these four risks are the most common barriers to organizational transformations, the challenges you will encounter will be unique to your organization.

An organization transforming, by definition, changes over time – being vigilant in monitoring risk should go hand-in-hand.