With all the obstacles that come with navigating change, it’s not uncommon for organizations to hit a figurative wall or face a figurative “shark moat.”

According to a study by McKinsey, only 26% of organizational change initiatives succeed. The rest either fail to deliver the expected results or cause more harm than good.

There’s no doubt about it: Change can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be.

The good news is these failed scenarios can be traced back to a handful of notorious change management obstacles that are completely avoidable with the right planning.

Read on to learn how to overcome the most common challenges of change management and lead your organization to success.

5 Change Management Obstacles and the Strategies to Clear Them

Obstacle 1: Lack of Clear Vision and Strategy

One of the most common reasons why change initiatives fail is that they lack a clear vision and strategy. Your vision is your statement of what the organization wants to achieve or become as a result of the change, and your strategy outlines how your organization will get there. Without a clear vision and strategy, change initiatives can become vague, confusing, or unrealistic.

To overcome this obstacle, you need to define and communicate a compelling vision and strategy for the change. A good vision and strategy should answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose and rationale of the change? Why is it necessary and beneficial?
  • What are the specific goals and objectives of the change? How will they be measured and evaluated?
  • What are the key actions and steps required to implement the change? Who is responsible and accountable for each action and step?
  • What are the expected timelines and milestones for the change? How will they be tracked and reported?
  • What are the potential risks and challenges of the change? How will they be mitigated and managed?

By defining and communicating a clear vision and strategy, you can create a shared understanding and direction for the change, align the stakeholders and resources, and motivate and inspire the people involved.

Obstacle 2: Lack of Leadership and Sponsorship

Another common reason why change initiatives fail is that they lack leadership and sponsorship. And you definitely need both: With leadership on board, it’s far easier to influence and guide the workforce toward the desired change, and you need sponsorship to acquire the support and resources necessary to execute the change.

But often, executives don’t fully understand their role in change management, what resources are needed, or why the change is happening in the first place, leading to poor communication and participation on their end. Without their full support and leadership, change initiatives can face resistance, opposition, or indifference from the people who are affected by or involved in the change.

To overcome this obstacle, you need to identify and engage the key leaders and sponsors for the change as early as possible. A good leader and sponsor should have the following characteristics:

  • Authority and credibility to endorse and advocate the change.
  • Influence and network to mobilize and persuade others to support the change.
  • Commitment and enthusiasm to drive and sustain the change.
  • Knowledge and skills to oversee and monitor the change.

It’s the step that comes next that trips up organizations the most often, however, and that’s gaining executive buy-in and engagement. Gaining that investment starts with thoroughly explaining your plan and the “why” behind it. To drive your points home, be sure to highlight:

  • The downsides of not changing now.
  • How the change will benefit the organization’s broader strategy.
  • Any specific benefits that will appeal specifically to the individual executives you’re speaking with. Employees want to know what’s in it for them, and so do the executives.
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As soon as your executives are on board and your plan is fresh in their minds, it’s time to assign roles and responsibilities and set expectations for these duties. By identifying and engaging the key leaders and sponsors early on, you can gain vital allies for your change initiative, overcome potential barriers and objections, and ensure the accountability and governance of the change.

Obstacle 3: Lack of Communication and Engagement

Nobody wants to be left in the dark, especially when undergoing large-scale organizational change. That’s why another common obstacle to change management is insufficient communication and engagement regarding the change. Without the two, change initiatives can cause misunderstanding, confusion, or anxiety among the people who are expected to adopt and embrace the change, followed by the dreaded resistance.

To overcome this obstacle, you need to design and implement a comprehensive communication and engagement plan. Make sure your plan includes elements like:

  • The target audiences and stakeholders for the change: Who are they, and what are their needs and expectations?
  • The messengers: Know that for broader change-related news, employees tend to prefer to hear it from leaders at the top of the organization. But for more personal “what’s in it for me” messages, they often prefer to hear it from their immediate supervisor who understands their role more comprehensively.
  • The key messages and channels for the change: What do you want to tell them, and how do you want to reach them?
  • The frequency and timing of the communication and engagement: When and how often do you want to communicate and engage with them?
  • The feedback and evaluation mechanisms for the change: How do you want to collect and analyze their input and feedback?

With a comprehensive communication and engagement plan in effect, you’ll be on your way to building a culture of transparency and trust for the change. It’ll also allow you to address concerns and questions head-on from the start, which will foster participation and ownership of the change.

Obstacle 4: Lack of Training and Support

Another obstacle organizations run into is lacking sufficient training and support. It’s no surprise to anyone that any significant change will require training to get off the ground, but sometimes it can be difficult to answer questions like:

  • How much support and training is needed? After all, no one wants to underestimate and leave their staff feeling unprepared.
  • What training formats are the most effective for different individuals? What works for one person may be less helpful for another.

To answer these questions with the most precision possible, here are some strategies to try out:

Conduct a skills gap analysis.

Learn what skills your staff already has and what duties they will need to perform in the near future, given the upcoming changes and their roles. With these baselines identified, you will be able to see the skill gaps you will need to address clearly. Knowing these deficiencies is vital to creating a training plan that leaves no stone unturned – not too little, not too much.

Offer training format options.

Everyone learns differently, so it’s worth offering more than one training style option to help your staff process and retain information as efficiently as possible. Examples might include:

  • How-to videos
  • PDF guides and articles
  • Live instructional sessions
  • RPA-based in-application training
  • Peer mentoring
  • Small group collaborative learning

By assessing the true needs of your staff and providing the appropriate training and support, your users will feel more confident and positive about the prospects of change, and your user adoption will rise as a result. It’s a win-win.

Obstacle 5: Lack of Monitoring and Evaluation

The last notorious change management obstacle is the lack of monitoring and evaluation after the change occurs. Taking the time to record these measurements is crucial, as it lets you know the progress and results of your efforts so you can celebrate the wins and keep optimizing over time. On the other hand, without monitoring and evaluation, change initiatives can lose sight of the goals and objectives, miss the opportunities and challenges, or fail to learn and improve.

To overcome this obstacle, you need to establish and implement a robust monitoring and evaluation system for the change. A strong monitoring and evaluation system should include the following components:

  • The indicators and measures for the change. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) and how will they be measured and reported?
  • The data collection and analysis methods and tools for the change. How will you collect and analyze the data and information?
  • The feedback and learning loops and mechanisms for the change. How will you use the data and information to inform and improve the change?
  • The reporting and dissemination formats and platforms for the change. How will you communicate and share the findings and recommendations?

With this system in place, you’ll be on track to continuous improvement and innovation.

Skip the Shark Moat: Embrace Change Now

With a well-thought-out change management plan, you can skip the obstacles and warm up your employees to the prospects of change faster, help them experience a smooth transition period, and ultimately capture the user adoption rates that help you achieve your broader transformation goals. Got any questions on how to execute the tips and tricks we’ve just explored? We’d love to chat – leave a question or comment in the chat below.

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About Kara

As a Naviant Content Writer since 2019, Kara is passionate about helping organizations unleash the power of technology to solve their business challenges. In her weekly articles, Kara breaks down the latest research, trends, and tips in the digital transformation world, specializing in intelligent automation, the cloud, AP & HR automation, artificial intelligence, change management, and more. She is also a Copywriter for the American Marketing Association-Madison, where she contributes bimonthly articles that interview industry experts and highlight the latest marketing trends. When she’s not writing, Kara is working on her latest art project, scoping out new music, or out for a run.