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  • Writer's pictureKishore Shahani

5 challenges you'll face as a change management practitioner

Change Management (CM) and how it is understood to add value to organizations has been evolving for quite some time now, accelerating over the last decade. That being said, it seems that the pitfalls and challenges that people face when they apply CM methodology and tools in specific projects and/or embed CM capability in their organizations have remained more or less the same.

I’d like to draw on these challenges and discuss the most common ones, because if we can anticipate them, we will be better equipped to face them head on and overcome them.

Over the past 3 years, I have been associated with Faculta/Prosci (check out and ) in the role of Advanced Instructor for the Change Management Workshops offered by Faculta.

The workshops we provide are role based and focus on developing Change Management Competencies of people in roles across the organization: Leaders and Sponsors, Managers, Change Management Professionals, Project Managers and employees in different roles. During the workshops, I have the opportunity of listening to and learning about the challenges that the attendees face as they share their projects and experiences with me. I am so grateful for this learning opportunity as the conversations are so enriching (and also fun!). Throughout these experiences and Prosci’s documentation, I’ve been able to identify the “repeat offenders” of change management undertakings.

These are the Top 5 challenges I’ve seen come up in workshops that I have (total of more than 300 attendees) facilitated in México, Latin America and the USA:

Obstacles, hurdles, race
If you already know the types of obstacles you’re going to face, you’ll be better prepared and equipped with the right weapons to overcome them

  1. Weak or non-existent Sponsorship. I’ve written in previous blog entries about the fact that sponsorship is the make or break of Change Management initiatives. Whether it is a lack of sponsorship or an inadequate one, this important role in the CM equation seems to constantly pop up when we discuss “why aren’t things going as they’re supposed to?” So, prepare for it. Consider an appropriate allocation of time to provide adequate coaching and onboarding get buy-in from key sponsors and stakeholders of the project. Prosci provides an easy tool to assess the quality of Sponsorship in your organization. You can use this to help you design the action steps to improve Sponsorship and thus increase the probability of success of the project.

  2. Project Portfolio management. The fact that companies do not have a Project Management Office (PMO) to manage their project portfolio is eerily common. Projects are not adequately prioritized, project management is weak and unstructured and often there are too many projects being executed at the same time causing change saturation. Teams have little clarity as to which projects will actually move forward and when this will happen, so coordination with scarce Change Management resources becomes a challenge.

  3. The “Soft skill” trap. “Change management? That’s that wishy-washy communication thing those HR guys need to do, right? At some point tell them about the project and let them deal with the communications.” Sound familiar? Regardless of the proven and documented benefits that CM has brought to numerous projects all over the world, practitioners continue to face the challenge of generating genuine buy-in from key sponsors and stakeholders who do not understand the role CM should play as a partner throughout the project lifecycle. If this is something you’re facing, the good news is that Prosci has vast literature and case studies to help you to create awareness and enlighten minds in your organization. With the right tools, you can become a true ambassador and champion for change management, help your company understand that CM is a lot more than just communication and drive better results by capturing the people-dependent benefits of the projects. You can help the entire enterprise understand the value of developing change management as a core competency in all functions and roles. Make sure that top management has CM on their radar and that they perceive it as a strategic tool that can be a competitive advantage.

  4. The curse of siloes, egos and the lack of cross functional collaboration. In organizations where the leadership style is hierarchical and collaboration is not engrained in the culture, generating the right environment for change management to flourish, is a hard battle to tackle. Most projects impact different functions across the organizations. For change management to be effective, the collaborative relationship between all members of the enterprise is essential. This relationship should leave no room for jealousy or turf wars. Open and direct communication becomes a crucial part of the coordination equation and all involved should leave egos at the door. In order to achieve this, consider any and all possibilities to drive a “we’re all in this ship together” mentality. The team needs to recognize that whether they row in sync and beat their competitors or sink to the bottom of the ocean, they will all be doing this TOGETHER.

  5. Untimely inclusion in projects. How many times have you observed the project team bringing in the CM specialist once the project has already failed or is on an inevitable path to disaster? Worse even, how many times have you heard “we need to involve you change people, but we did not allocate a budget for this. So, we will have to work with little to nothing. But hey! Everybody’s on board and has a great attitude!” Attitude alone is not going to fund your change management initiative. This makes me think of the following story: imagine you own a Formula 1 team and you need a champion driver. After a lot of effort, you manage to sign up Lewis Hamilton. But here’s the catch: Lewis is going to have to drive a car with no wheels, no brakes and a faulty transmission. Also, all of the rest of the drivers are going to get a head start of 30 minutes. Under these conditions, the chances of Lewis winning are pretty slim, right? The same happens with Change Management. You need the right people, with the right tools, brought in at the right time which is right at the beginning of the project.

I know that this list is overwhelming but that’s reality, so hang in there. You might find yourself asking “is the effort worth it?” The short answer is: YES, YES, YES.

And why is this? Because it is a proven fact worldwide that CM (together with project management) significantly increases the chance of maximizing benefit realization. The other good news is, as mentioned earlier, if you already know the types of obstacles you’re going to face, you’ll be better prepared and equipped with the right weapons to overcome them!

Kishore Shahani is a proven Business & Leadership Development Executive with extensive achievement driving businesses within complex markets and developing value-add cross-functional teams. He is currently bringing his more than 30 years of business leadership experience to action as a Business Consultant, Leadership Trainer and Speaker. Contact Kishore for more info.


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