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Top change management obstacles 2012 Edition of Best Practices in Change Management


The 7h change management benchmarking study conducted by Prosci uncovered lessons learned from change practitioners around the world, examining topics ranging from advice for new practitioners to the application of social media on change projects. This action-oriented report is aimed at improving your change management work by helping you draw on the experiences of others. This tutorial shares the greatest obstacles to change management success, in addition to editor’s notes that offer further insight into the top change management obstacles.


Participants in Prosci’s 2012 Best Practices in Change Management report identified 5 main obstacles to the overall success of their change management programs. The top 4 obstacles matched the results from Prosci’s 2009 study. For the past 3 years, since Prosci has asked this question, hundreds of change management practitioners have struggled with the same 4 aspects of managing change.

Are we listening? Take this opportunity to learn from others like you to help increase your change management success.

Greatest change management obstacles from Prosci’s 2012 edition of Best Practices in Change Management

Change Management Problem #1.

 Ineffective change management sponsorship from senior leaders

Participants cited ineffective change sponsorship as their primary obstacle. Common problems included:

  • Inactive or invisible sponsors
  • Poor alignment between organizational direction and the objectives of the change
  • Lack of sponsor commitment to change management
  • Sponsors with competing priorities or changes in sponsorship
  • Sponsors at the wrong level (not high enough in the organization)
  • Little or no access to the primary sponsor
  • Failure to build a coalition of sponsors
Editor’s note: In Prosci’s 2007, 2009 and 2011 benchmarking studies, ineffective change management sponsorship from senior leaders was identified as the number one change management obstacle. An absent, invisible or unengaged sponsor sends just as strong of a message to employees about the importance of a change as an engaged and active sponsor. Meanwhile, participants reported that 80% of projects with extremely effective sponsorship met or exceeded objectives. As a change management practitioner, it is your responsibility to inform and coach senior leaders on their roles in leading change. Are your senior sponsors aware of the importance of their role in ensuring project success? How well are your senior leaders fulfilling the role of sponsor?


Change Management Problem #2.

2. Insufficient change management resourcing

Participants cited a general lack of resources and funding available to conduct the necessary planning and implementation of change management. Specifically, participants struggled with:

  • Insufficient resources to support change management required for the project
  • Part-time resources; “working in the margin”
  • Inadequate change management skills and knowledge to lead change management activities effectively
  • Adding change management resources to the project team too late in the project life cycle
Editor’s note: Research shows that when there is a change management resources dedicated to an change initiative, the project is more successful. Without a dedicated change management resource, change management activities slip and there is not a single point of contact focused on the people side of change. Securing change management resources for your project may not come easy if change management is not fully embraced in your organization. Nevertheless, successful projects incorporate effective change management, and effective change management starts with effective change leaders. Does your project include a budget for change management? Are change practitioners available in your organization to fill the resource void?


Change Management Problem #3.

3. Resistance to change from employees

Employee resistance moved from the second greatest obstacle in 2009 to the third greatest obstacle in 2011. Reasons for employee resistance included:

  • A lack of understanding why the change was needed and the “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)
  • Employees are close to retirement and are unwilling to change
  • Employees are unwilling to learn new systems or tools (satisfied with the current state)
  • A loss of control or fear of loss of control
  • Change saturation; employees were overwhelmed by the amount of change occurring in the organization
  • A unwillingness to change due to poorly handled changes in the past
Editor’s note: Resistance to change is inevitable, but being aware of the nature of this resistance can enable you as a change practitioner to better manage the resistance. Employees resist change most often because they lack awareness of the need for change and they fear the impacts of the change. When addressing these points of resistance, study participants recommended two areas of focus: 1) building awareness of why the change is needed, and 2) addressing how the change will directly impact employees. The research shows that messages addressing the first area are best received if from the primary sponsor or senior leader; messages addressing the second area are best received if delivered by an employee’s direct supervisor. Are you actively working to manage resistance to the change? Are the preferred senders of messages effectively fulfilling their roles?


Change Management Problem #4.

4. Middle-management resistance

Middle managers were reluctant to support the change personally or lead the change with their staff. This resistance from middle managers resulted in a lack of consistent and accurate communication about the change to their employees. Participants cited the following reasons for management resistance:

  • A fear of job loss or loss of control
  • Were not supportive of the change itself
  • A lack of understanding of the need for change management
  • A lack of knowledge or skills to manage change effectively
  • Insufficient time to complete change management activities; managers were task focused and unable to commit the necessary time to focus on the people side of the change
Editor’s note: Managing resistance from managers proactively is important due to the critical role managers fill in leading their employees through change. Managers who have not embraced a change themselves cannot effectively lead their direct reports through the change. The 2012 report indicates that more than half of resistance from managers could have been avoided. Steps to proactively avoid manager resistance include: involving managers in all phases of the project, building awareness of the need for change and the impacts of the change early in the change process, and evoking executive support for the change. Are your managers adequately prepared for change? Are your managers ready and willing to lead their employees through change?


Change Management Problem #5.

5. Poor communication

Participants cited a number of reasons that their communications were not effective including:

  • Inconsistent messages
  • Communications did not address the need or reason for the change
  • Difficulty reaching employees because of geographical separation
  • Long gaps of time between communications; poor communication “timeliness”
Editor’s note: When communicating with employees, successful change messages share the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me”) for the target audience, explain the business reasons for why the change is happening, and are honest and clear. The research also indicates that the message deliverer is as important as the message content. Effective communications share the right message from the right sender. Poor communications tend to share in-depth details about the project (such as status updates and development) rather than the rationale for the change, and are often delivered by someone other than the preferred senders (such as a project leader or communication specialist). Best practices can guide you in creating effective “communications plans” instead of ineffective “telling plans.” Who is communicating change messages in your organization? Are you keeping your audience in mind?


Additional obstacles cited by participants included:

  • Lack of buy-in for change management Study respondents noted challenges getting senior executives and project teams to buy in to the need for change management and realize the financial benefits of change management. Without full support or understanding around the necessity for change management, change management was often either brought on to a project too late, under tasked only with communications and training activities, or not utilized on the project at all. Some respondents reported a struggle to get their organizations to realize the benefits of incorporating change management.

  • Disconnect between project management and change management
    Study respondents noted conflicting priorities and misalignment between project management and change management teams as a large obstacle to success. Respondents reported that a lack of consensus on how to integrate the two practices became a large challenge throughout the life of projects and often resulted in change management playing “second fiddle” to project management. Specifically, study participants cited difficulty involving and getting assistance from project managers.

  • Source: prosci change management

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