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Change hazards - biggest obstacles to successful change

The path of organizational change is littered with the best intentions that never delivered results or value to the organization. Creating successful organizational change is not easy - but there are lessons that can be learned from others who have tried. Prosci's work in change management is founded on the longitudinal best practices studies we complete every two years. Over the last 10 years, five of these studies have combined to provide data on what works, and - sometimes more importantly - what does not work, when implementing change.

This tutorial presents the most recent benchmarking results for the question: What were the biggest obstacles to the overall success of your change program?

In the 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study, 426 participants from 59 countries shared their insights. Each recounted the story of how their project played out. Below are the top four obstacles this group identified:

Top change hazards

  1. Ineffective change sponsorship from senior leaders

  2. Resistance to the change from employees

  3. Poor support and alignment with middle management

  4. Lack of change management resources and planning


The Change hazards tutorial pulls data from the Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report.

Report overview  |  Table of contents

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1. Ineffective change sponsorship from senior leaders

Best practices report excerpt: Participants cited ineffective change sponsorship as their primary obstacle, specifically stating problems with:

  • Inactive or invisible sponsors
  • Sponsors not at the right level (not high enough in the organization)
  • Poor alignment among key stakeholders resulting in a weak sponsor coalition
  • Wavering sponsor commitment (especially on longer projects)
  • Conflicts of interest between key business leaders (managers' objectives were not aligned with the change)

* These are five of the ten problems identified in the full report.

What it means: Poor sponsorship directly impacts the value a project or change delivers to the organization. In the same way that effective sponsorship can mobilize and activate the organization, poor sponsorship can inhibit and delay progress. Employees interpret an absent or inactive sponsor as an indication of how important - or unimportant - the initiative is. Prosci's methodology includes a sponsor assessment diagram for identifying the required coalition and a sponsor roadmap that lays out the specific actions a team needs from senior leaders.


2. Resistance to the change from employees

Best practices report excerpt: Employee resistance to change was cited nearly as frequently as sponsorship issues. Specific areas contributing to resistance from employees included:

  • Lack of understanding of why the change is happening and "What's in it for me?" or "WIIFM"
  • Long-tenured employees unwilling to support the change
  • Loss of control and ownership of work processes
  • Fear of the future state, including concerns over job security

* These are four of the eight areas identified in the full report.

What it means: Resistance to change moved from number one on the list in 2003 and 2005 to number two in 2007, just behind ineffective sponsorship (interestingly, poor sponsorship often results in resistance to change). Resistance is not innocuous - it has long lasting and detrimental effects on the ROI a project delivers. Managing resistance requires both proactive steps to mitigate the sources of resistance and a reactive process for when resistance does occur. 


3. Poor support and alignment with middle management

Best practices report excerpt: Middle managers were reluctant to support the change when they perceived that the change was not aligned with their operational objectives or when they expected negative impacts to their day-to-day operations. This lack of support was evident by middle managers who were unwilling to communicate consistent and accurate information about the change and who exhibited poor sponsorship of the change with their employees.

What it means: Middle managers are perhaps one of the biggest allies - and potentially biggest hurdles - in times of change. Based on the 2007 benchmarking study, their key roles are: 1) Communicator; 2) Advocate; 3) Coach; 4) Liaison and 5) Resistance manager. However, these same managers were also cited as the most resistant group to change. If middle management resists a change, so will their people. And many times, resistance takes on a viral quality, spreading throughout the organization.


4. Lack of change management resources and planning

Best practices report excerpt: Lack of change management resources and planning included insufficient resources available to conduct the necessary planning and implementation, the lack of a formal change management approach and the lack of change management knowledge within the team. Some participants stated that they did not form the change management team early enough. Others reported that they did not have the budget or sufficient time to apply change management properly.

What it means: Without resources, change management activities will not be completed. And without adequate planning, change management will not be holistic and may miss the mark. The total value a project delivers to the organization is directly correlated with how well you manage the people side of change.



How well are you doing?

The quick checklist below will help you gauge the risks you face related to the biggest obstacles to overall success:

Yes No Success factor
I'm facing ineffective change sponsorship from senior leaders
I'm experiencing or expecting resistance to change from employees
I have poor support and alignment with middle management
I have a lack of change management resources and planning


The 2007 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report has numerous other findings on what to do and what not to do when implementing change in your organization. The report provides a solid foundation for creating your own checklists on a number of topics.







Tools for applying change management:

  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former Fortune 500 executives at locations across the U.S.
  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology; includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Guide for Managers ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes ADKAR book, Employee's Survival Guide and 10 ADKAR worksheets)
  • Change Management Pilot 2008 ($449) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Pilot Professional 200808 ($559) - the content of the Change Management Pilot plus additional benchmarking data and an online version of the Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95) - a primer that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management for anyone involved in organizational change
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change ($14.95) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change; answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change


*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources


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Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




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