5 Missteps to Avoid when Leading Change

Written By Anna Sullins


Any successful company will tell you that effectively navigating change is a cornerstone of their business.  We know that change is a way of life in our ever-evolving business environment, and organizations who successfully execute change initiatives can turn agility into a competitive advantage. Therefore, as leaders, it’s important to recognize that sometimes change is less about finding the right formula, and more about avoiding the pitfalls. Here are five missteps to avoid when leading change.

1. Waiting for a Crisis

It’s only human nature to wait for a major and visible crisis to jolt us into action, but stalling becomes our own undoing.  When you’ve reached the point of crisis – whether it’s bad PR, widespread employee departures, or the loss of an important account – you’re forced into reactive mode, and your time is spent fighting fires rather than proactively getting ahead of the issue.

Solve this problem by conducting a “Pre-Mortem”. Rather than waiting for a crisis to occur, consider conducting a “pre-mortem” exercise with your team. Consider these questions:

By developing an early warning system, you can prepare to respond to problems with a thought-out plan.

2. Neglecting the Influencers

We like to surround ourselves with positive colleagues who support our cause, but this can lead to our downfall.  While having the organization’s leaders in your corner is important, equally valuable is winning over the informal influencers.  These ringleaders have immense sway in a business, and can ultimately turn the tide of success by rallying the troops or influencing resistance.

3. Not Walking the Talk

While executives can publicly declare a change initiative, it’s all talk until highly-visible individuals begin to walk.  Research tells us that a direct supervisor or manager has more impact and influence over employees than upper-level leadership.  This key group of folks must noticeably support the change in order to gain confidence and buy-in from the masses.

4. Throwing a Party

Transformative change initiatives can take years to fully embed in a culture, and that’s a long time to wait for most of us.  We all need a reminder along the way that the change is progressing as planned and success is on the horizon.  Identifying and celebrating milestones and short-term wins throughout the change process is a necessary shot of momentum to sustain long-term change.

5. Proclaiming Victory

Stating a change and putting policies behind it isn’t real change, just as declaring victory too soon is only a temporary illusion of success.  True change takes time, commitment, and the ability to see it through.  Celebrate small victories along the way, but don’t consider a declaration of change to be sufficient – you must be in it for the long-haul.

Sometimes, a partner to guide you in executing recent changes can be helpful. Explore our Cultivating Change workshop, where your leadership team will create a plan to successfully execute your next change.

Anna Sullins is the Training & Development Manager for Biltmore, overseeing the learning and professional development programs for Biltmore’s 2,500 employees.