Insights | Digital Enablement

The Four Deadly A’s of Change Initiatives

Why transformation projects fail to meet expectations

An employee stressed over data analytics

While everyone wants change, no one wants to change. This is a well-known adage in the field of change management where it’s often easier to convince people of the need for something new than to get everyone moving in the same direction toward that objective.

The ability of a project to achieve project objectives varies according to the quality of help. In fact, 96 percent of projects hit their objectives when they have excellent change management support, while only 16 percent of projects achieve their goals if the support is poor, according to Prosci Best Practices in Change Management.

So, why don’t leaders and project teams include change management in their digital and business transformation plans to avoid setting themselves up for failed or sub optimum results? The reasons can be characterized as the Four Deadly A’s: Aloofness, Apathy, Assumptions, and Avoidance.

1. Aloofness

In my experience with over 50 clients going through a business or digital transformation less than 25 percent of project managers, senior leadership, IT, and financial leadership embraced the need to include a structured change management plan. They were either reticent, indifferent, or disinterested; mostly, they were aloof. The primary reasons were they:

  • Were too busy with technical requirements;
  • Lacked understanding of the people side of change;
  • Had budget constraints; or
  • Lacked executive support.

Most said that in hindsight the first thing they would add to their project plan would be an allocation for change support.

2. Apathy

The basic lack of caring can be a huge barrier to including change enablement in projects, whether on the part of senior leadership, the project team, or the corporate culture. Many times, it’s leadership or the IT team saying, ‘We have to do this anyway, so let just get it done.’ This type of indifference also has roots in the culture of the enterprise or within functional groups.

For example, I once had a co-worker at a previous employer tell me, ‘Just keep your head down and pretend to go along. In six months, we’ll be back to the way we used to do this, we’ll outlast the changes, and the new processes won’t work.’ A culture that resists change can usually be tracked back to prior efforts that were apathetic toward the need for a change structure, or lack of employee engagement, or not understanding the role of benefits realization.

3. Assumptions

When something gets lost in the process of ‘just doing,’ the people who will determine the success and ROI of the project are usually the last to know.

For example, the leadership and project teams might have been planning for the changes for some time, and they know the strategic imperatives as to why transformation must happen.  They assume, erroneously, that everyone else is onboard. They recall having mentioned the project in a town hall or in a company email, but they have no idea what stakeholders heard and retained, if anything. They didn’t take the time to:

  • Articulate a vision;
  • Provide active and visible sponsorship;
  • Inspire hope and aspiration;
  • Ask for fresh ideas; or
  • Take ownership for success.

4. Avoidance

This usually happens when leadership and or project leads don’t take the time to ask users their opinion. Often a project has a challenging timeline and an employee might say, ‘I don’t have time for that, and I don’t have any support.’ Sometimes they just don’t even think about what needs to be done.

The result is the lost opportunity for stakeholders to be a part of the process and solution, to express their fears, to share their ideas, and to consider the opportunities that the changes could bring. They miss the chance to capture the unknown and undocumented benefits.

I have conducted focus groups with thousands of employees, and the overwhelming majority just want to have a voice. Change is difficult, it is personal, and they have a stake in the result.  They want to be heard and considered in the process. Invariably they want the company and project to succeed once they understand the ‘Why.’

When planning a project, it’s important to ask yourself:

  1. Do I understand the risks and benefits of this project from all levels?
  2. Do expected results depend on people changing how they do their jobs?
  3. What percentage of new system processes and benefits are dependent on users?

Benefits of Change Enablement

The goal of change enablement is to provide employees with a voice, the tools, and the easy-to-understand language to navigate buy-in and own the changes. The advantages include: 

  • Increasing understanding, adoption, and dedication
  • Provide leadership with insights to effectively lead the change
  • Provides users with an opportunity to take ownership of the changes
  • Addresses fragmentation and cultural issues that can derail the project
  • Provides quantified benefits and return on investment

Change is not an easy process, it takes time.  When change enablement is included in a project via a structured program and familiar language, you can mitigate and address problems, and enable stakeholders to be a part of your achievement, not the ones undermining it.


Learn more about change management in our article “Don’t Hope for Change, Manage It”.

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