Reversing Negative Mindsets and Creating a Positive Climate for Change

By Michelle Davies & Celestina Policastro

Editor’s Note:  Article is an abridged version of a white paper that the authors wrote for the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP).  If you would like a copy of the entire article, then please contact CARA at 

Since the 1990s, more and more companies have been incorporating change management activities when undergoing major business and IT changes.  Yet, 80 percent of change efforts still fail. So, what can we do to decrease change failure rates?

LISTEN and Learn:
Utilize the analytical tools in your change toolbox to understand your stakeholders.  Ask questions and listen carefully to their responses.  Find out what’s top of mind; what is and isn’t working well; whom they believe; and where they get their information.

Transparent Messaging:
Propaganda won’t get you very far and can actually damage your credibility. Instead, talk about the good, the bad – and the ugly. Provide ‘real speak’ from credible sources.  Be concise and consistent with messaging.  When things change (which will happen), be truthful on what changed, explain why it changed and clearly articulate the next steps.

Credible Sources:
Don’t expect leaders to deliver all of your change messaging. Look for change champions who demonstrate genuine passion for change, optimism for what could be and a willingness to candidly speak to the harder side of change.  Consider modifying your stakeholder analysis to measure both passion for change and compassion for people.

Business Impact Workshops:
Hold Business Impact Workshops, where future state process flows are reviewed in order to identify possible business impacts.  Then, each business impact is assessed for likelihood and severity to business operations.  Ultimately, the highest scoring business impacts become risks/issues, which are then clustered together appropriately and become mini-projects.  Key impacted stakeholders (outside of the project team) are assigned to each mini-project to mitigate and/or resolve the risks/issues.

Mutual Accountability with Bias for Action:
Human nature is self-preservation, and so we make decisions on what is best for the self – not for the group nor for the organization. In contrast, mutual accountability focuses on what is best for the team and the organization.  One person cannot transform an organization unless the person unites with other similar minded people.  So, it isn’t about the individual, but how individuals come together as a whole to enable change.

It’s About Sustainment:
Get everyone to stop thinking that the go-live date is the finish line!  Instead, advocate that the go-live is the “start line” for the impacted stakeholders.  Think about who needs to help with transition-into-sustainment, such as HR, Communications, Training, Finance, Legal and other administrative functions.  Think about dedicating some of the project team for 6 months to a year past go-live in order to help business owners reinforce and anchor the change into the way business is done.

Celebrate Successes:
Celebrating successes is often overlooked or down played.  It doesn’t have to involve money, but it should involve time and effort.  Some simple suggestions include: pizza party; casual day; thank you card; note for individuals’ performance reviews; baking cookies; recognition at meetings.  Remember! The little things will lead to big things!

Change is a journey – not a destination – and a positive journey is a lot more fun!  Instead of focusing on the failure rates of projects, why not turn it around and talk about the improvements being made and seen firsthand?