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Change Management Learning Center - managing change library

Change management - success factors and obstacles

The following tutorial is based on findings from the 2003 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study. This is Prosci's third study in the past six years that investigates best practices in change management. 288 organizations from 51 countries participated in this study. More information on the report is available online

Greatest contributors to success

Overwhelmingly, the greatest contributor to project success was effective and strong executive sponsorship. Effective sponsors:

  • show active and visible support, both privately and professionally

  • ensure that the change remains a priority

  • demonstrate their commitment as a role model of change

  • provide compelling justification for why the change is happening

  • communicate a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the change

  • provide sufficient resources for the team and project to be successful


The top-five contributors to success were:

  1. Effective sponsorship (as described above)

  2. Buy-in from front-line managers and employees
    Many participants highlighted the importance of support from the impacted employees and managers. Involvement early in the process increased support from these levels.

  3. Exceptional team
    The change management team itself was identified as a contributor to success. The skills, expertise, experience and commitment of the team were critical. Additionally, an effective leader and motivator should lead the team.
    "The right people… highly professional, highly motivated, highly focused, highly questioning and extremely resourceful."

  4. Continuous and targeted communication
    Communication was identified as a key contributor to success. Effective communication was consistent, open and honest, targeted at the specific recipient and delivered through a variety of media.
    "the Right communication to the Right stakeholder at the Right time during the project."

  5. Well planned and organized approach
    Organization and planning contributed to the success of some projects, including the use of a methodology or specific plan, initiation of change management activities early in the project, a systematic approach to the change and the anticipation of specific resistance.


Greatest change management obstacles

The top obstacle to change was employee resistance at all levels. Participants indicated that there was a natural human resistance to change that impacted project success (specific reasons for this resistance are covered in a later section). Surprisingly, the effectiveness or correctness of the actual business solution, process or system changes was cited only five times in over 200 responses. In other words, having the "right answer" to the problem was not enough.

The top-five greatest change management obstacles were:

  1. Employee and staff resistance
    Employees were fearful of the unknown and were opposed to moving outside of their comfort zone. The background conversation or "coffee pot" discussions between employees contributed to this resistance.  "People accepting the changes … many people feel that if they wait long enough, this too shall pass."   "Battling the grapevine."

  2. Middle-management resistance
    Middle managers posed a significant obstacle since they directly interact with front-line employees. Resistance was due to a perceived loss of power and/or limited input in the project.

  3. Poor executive sponsorship
    Executive sponsors either did not play a visible role in supporting the program or shifted their support too soon after project initiation.  "Lack of active sponsorship. We have surface 'buy-in' but lacked visible reinforcement and leadership modeling the change."

  4. Limited time, budget and resources
    Project teams did not have adequate time to complete the project. The strain of the change project on existing resources compounded the problem. Change projects were over shadowed by daily activities and responsibilities.  "Current resources are stretched nearly beyond capacity."

  5. Corporate inertia and politics
    The organizational culture pushed back against the change initiative.
    "Unshackling the embedded culture of the organization... too many long tenured employees."


The tutorial above come for the 2003 edition of Best Practices in Change Management.  Visit the report's website to find out more about the report.  You can order the report online, or call 970-203-9332 for more information.

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Related Resources:

Best Practices in Change Management: 426 companies share experiences in managing change and lesson on how to build great executive sponsorship. Includes success factors, methodology, role of top management, communications, team structure and more. The report makes it easy to learn change management best practices and discover the mistakes to avoid when creating executive sponsorship.

Change Management Toolkit: a comprehensive change management process, including templates,  worksheets, assessments, checklists and guidelines - a must have for change management team members and consultants.




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