The Big Six Change Killers

business change business change management change manager culture leadership mindset news strategy successful change tips Oct 18, 2020
Moody clouds and thunderstorm over sea and rocks
It’s common for change managers to make these six big mistakes in their projects – and any one of them is guaranteed to kill your change. Knowledge is power, so learn to avoid them if you want to make your change stick.


Here’s the truth: we've all had projects that die a slow and agonising death in one way or another. 

The great thing about failure though, is that we learn how NOT to do it next time. 

Do you want to shorten the learning process and instead of experiencing the trauma of unsuccessful change personally, learn from someone who has been there and put it all together in a handy lesson?

Well then you’ll want to join me for Make Change Stick, a free week of learning and coaching, jam packed with value you can implement the same day that will change your perspective on change forever.

It’s incredibly painful to be part of a failing change project (I know, I’ve been there). It’s anxiety-producing and doesn't feel good to know you wanted to make an impact and didn’t.

We’ll dive into the change killers (and how to avoid them) plus so much more in our week together, so sign up to join us here for Make Change Stick.


Here are the 6 big change killers change managers should know:


puffin clashing with another sea bird


1. Senior Level Jitters

When stakeholders disagree, progress stalls and solutions don't work as expected, it’s a tough time to be a change manager. 

Emotions are heightened and people start to get tense.

What tends to happen is senior level people start to question whether the change is delivering enough benefit and you’ll see them begin to distance themselves. 

When this happens, the project will never be quite the same again. This is a killer because it’s so insidious and manages to stop the momentum of the project. 

We need courage to walk into problems and be resilient and persistent enough to keep going and take the learnings on – senior level jitters put a stop all of that.


2. Rapid drop-off of engagement

You thought it was all going so well in your change project. 

You thought everyone was engaged and onboard with the changes.

Then there’s a sudden downturn when everyone either stops engaging or keeps bringing you back to earlier talking points.

You find yourself in meetings over and over again with the same people, re-explaining things you thought you’d dealt with.

This is a sure-fire sign that your users weren’t so ready for the change after all.

Maybe you made assumptions

Maybe you went too fast.

It doesn’t matter at this point, because your project is already derailed.

In change, when the process becomes stressful to people and the pace of change isn’t comfortable, they will stop talking to you because they don’t feel safe.

This is hard to recover from because once you’ve lost that trust, people don’t easily go back to a carefree, creative space.

Too much focus on outputs and time pressure stops creativity, innovation and engagement and puts an end to the value of your project that could have been so exciting and impactful. 


penguin walking away


3. The users stop trusting you

Users tend to stop trusting you as a change manager when you’ve stopped being transparent and have relied on smoke and mirrors instead.

People seem to think that only focussing on what’s working is a good idea but is actually a form of toxic positivity.

Only focussing on what’s working helps means you lose credibility and trust. You need to build trust if you expect users to give you your time and for that, they need to know the unvarnished truth. 

Smoke and mirrors means Users get one of three messages: 

  1. Bumps aren’t normal (when they definitely 100% are)
  2. You as the change manager think they can’t handle the truth (which is pretty insulting)
  3. You don’t want their help finding solutions and getting the project back on track (also pretty insulting)

Lack of trust will kill your change project because when people withdraw and no longer believe you, they simply won’t give good information. 

As a change manager, you have to make the Users feel like they’re in it with you, instead of feeling like change is being done to them.


4. Defensiveness about the solution 

As a change pro, you need to focus on getting it right, not being right.

So give people permission to break your solution.

Without it, people feel they can't speak up about what might not work and like their views aren’t important and inevitably lose interest in getting to the best solution.

What we know about change is that the solution we first think of is rarely the best solution; an iterative process is far more effective and helps us get to a successful and sustainable change.

When you’re defensive about YOUR brilliant solution, you quickly lose the ability to engage with people who could be enormously helpful.

I once worked on a project with a woman who, in every single meeting would say, “I don’t want to be a negative Nelly but...” and do you know what? Usually whatever came out of her mouth next was pure gold. 

Allow people into the centre of the project who otherwise might be deemed (or deem themselves) a nuisance – if they can break your “brilliant” solution, it wasn’t so brilliant to start off with.


single leaf on water surface


5. Shoddy “training”

The quickest way to rollback what could be a brilliant change that has massive impact is to:

Give people the information you think they need…

only one time…

in a way that best suits you…

and then saying “great, you’re all trained now, bye”.

Put simply: You’ll kill any change by pushing people at your pace instead of theirs.

It takes time for people to build the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make change stick and if you haven’t given them what they need, they’ll go right back to where they were. 


6. When you stop before it’s done

When you first start a project, you have in your mind, “this change will be completed when XXX happens”.

There’s a huge temptation to draw a line once the solution is in and hand it over to “business as usual” for others to finish implementing.


Successful change pros know to only step away once the benefits have been delivered – and this stage is always much longer than you think. 

If you stop before the change is really done, your project will roll backwards and people will be much more cynical next time. 

Victory speeches are meaningless if your change doesn’t stick.

Are you a change manager worried that your change project is going off the rails? My upcoming coaching and training series, Make Change Stick, dives deep into all six of the big change killers so you can avoid them. Sign up to join us for what promises to be a very special week unlike anything you’ve experienced in the change world before!


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