Seven Deadly Sins of Managing Change

I’m sure there are many more, but here are seven deadly sins of managing change.


A poorly defined goal leads to a difficult-to-control change.

Organisations become stuck in transition from the period of shock and denial to the period of acceptance of change; letting go of the past. They do so because people have different views on what is the goal. Different views of the goal create actions which are not congruent.

Power groups form based around the different views of the goal. Tension is created and actual change is slow.


Change evolves. The mere announcement of a change programme alters the dynamic of an organisation. People react differently to the need for change, the goal of change and the plan for change.

When managing change, a long term plan must take into account the forming, disbanding and reforming of cliques of people around opinions, rumours and the occasional fact. People’s emotions and stamina are put to the test in any serious change programme.

A change management plan must be flexible and sensitive enough to sense and support the requirements people committed to change.


Waiting until the organisation is absolutely sure of all elements of their change programme before communicating it inevitably leads to the destruction of trust.

It leads to a greater element of shock and denial. It takes longer for people to reach the level of acceptance required for them to move on. The change is unlikely to be truly supported. A substantial group of employees will remain disenfranchised, looking for any opportunity to criticise the change years later.

There is a mantra that works in communicating change; “Tell them early, tell them often”.


Change programs are rarely about best practice. It is very difficult to actually do. If a change program is about best practice, it is likely that the program will be an evolutionary one rather than a revolutionary one. Evolutionary programs are best considered as a series of change programs designed to reach an ultimate vision. Hence, there is little need for a “galvanising” slogan.

If a galvanising slogan is required, make it about the goal of the change programme. Make it catchy, numeric and time based. For example, having 80% of all privatisation projects approved by government in 20 months by 2010 may be simplified to “80/20 by 2010”.


Organisations get the performance that they tolerate. Change programs falter when people who are unwilling and or unable to change are tolerated.

This applies to senior management as much as it applies to anyone in the organisation.

Whilst people must be given time to understand the change in behaviour required of them, there comes a time when their inability or unwillingness to make the change must be confronted. The consequence of high tolerance of unwanted behaviours is slow change or derailed change.


Leaders must embody the change they ask others to execute.

“Do as I say”, rather than “do as I do”, causes high degrees of unvoiced cynicism; a death knell for change.

Decisions which are perceived to be inconsistent with the change required also result in cynicism. Sometimes decisions which appear to be counter intuitive need to be made for the good of the goal of change. Communicating the rationale of the decision openly and fully is a must on these occasions.


Trying to do too much strangles change programs in three ways.

A scope too broad with too few resources results in either delays or insufficient depth of thought. Unintended consequences occur which undermine the veracity of the change plan.

A very broad and deep scope is often beyond the capacity of leaders to communicate effectively.

Cost estimation is difficult due to the complexity of the change program. Cost overruns are a real risk.

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