Change Management – The 5 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid in Your Change Project

Are you leading a change project or a transformation process that isn’t progressing as it should? 

Or perhaps you’re stuck in a change process that’s not going well and want to know what you can do?

If so, you should definitely avoid the following five common change management mistakes. These mistakes can destroy the acceptance of any transformation process.


The 5 Change Management Mistakes

  1. Making promises you can’t keep
  2. Making assumptions
  3. Failing to communicate
  4. Canceling previously agreed appointments without explanation
  5. Taking excessive action


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Change Management Mistake 1: Making Promises You Can’t Keep

Changes can take a long time. A very long time.

Often, the end is not really in sight, and we all know that people tend to have difficulty pursuing very long-term goals.

Therefore, leaders often tend to make promises during transformation processes. They think:

“The change will take a long time. With a few promises, we can appease our employees.”

And then they make promises they already know they can’t keep.

Or they know they are being overly optimistic.

They show employees a nice carrot to at least appease them.

But relatively quickly, the leaders realize:

“It didn’t work, the promises can’t be kept,”

so they come back with the next promises.

However, they often overlook:

Employees usually realize much earlier that the promises can’t be kept. Employees are not stupid – they know that change and transformation usually take much longer and are much more difficult than initially planned. Employees lose trust in the statements of the leadership. And it is precisely this last point, the loss of trust in the leadership, that destroys one of the most important foundations of a transformation process.


Please do not make promises in transformation projects that you already know or are very sure you cannot keep.


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Change Management Mistake 2: Making Assumptions

Especially in middle management or at the team leader level, leaders often face the problem that employees naturally want to know:

  • What is happening?
  • What happens next?
  • Why is the change being made this way?
  • Why doesn’t the change address that?
  • What do these changes mean for me as an employee?

Employees also assume that leaders always have more information than they do. Even though this is usually not the case, especially at the lower and middle levels of hierarchy in change projects.

Sooner or later, under the pressure of these questions, middle managers share their assumptions. Even if they don’t know what will actually happen, they might say things like:

  • “Well, I assume this is happening for this reason…”
  • “I suspect nothing will happen to us because…”

Even if these managers phrase their statements as assumptions, employees see them as reliable statements!

Sometimes leaders are correct in their assumptions. This makes employees believe even more strongly in the future that assumptions are actually facts being carefully presented.

It becomes problematic when the assumption is wrong. Employees relied on it, and then the credibility of the leader is damaged.


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Leaders should not express assumptions during transformation processes,

but only facts that they are sure they can share.

If the higher-level leader has made Change Management Mistake 1, the team leader is also in a difficult situation. But at least they have not expressed assumptions themselves and have truthfully conveyed the statements presented to them.

Once again, this underscores that assumptions made in change initiatives can destroy employee trust in the long term. Therefore: Do not express assumptions!


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Change Management Mistake 3: Failing to Communicate

You might say:

“Okay, so I shouldn’t make assumptions or promises in change management. Wouldn’t it be best if I just didn’t communicate at all?”

Well, that’s an understandable thought.

But it’s a fatal one.

It’s similar to being admitted to a hospital, where all the doctors look at you with distraught expressions. They prepare you for surgery, everyone is tense, and no one tells you what is wrong or what will happen next.

Our task is to communicate the things we can communicate.

It is not our job to leave our employees in the dark, making them even more insecure!

Sometimes, the only thing we can communicate is that nothing has changed. In that case, we should tell our team:

“There is no new information since we last spoke two weeks ago. Do you have any new questions about the changes for me, dear employees? If so, I’ll be happy to take them. Otherwise, I will update you again in two weeks with any new developments and the current status. If I receive any updates from the change manager in the meantime, I will inform you immediately.”

Failing to communicate is like standing on a train platform or sitting at an airport waiting for a train or plane, only to see “Delayed” on the display without knowing what is actually happening.

Most people handle “uncertainty” very poorly. When we know something is changing but we don’t know what it is or what impact it will have on us, uncertainty can lead to significant anxiety, demotivation, and productivity losses.

Therefore, it is essential to communicate reasonably and, above all, RELIABLY. Even if you have no news from your side.

It’s best to do this in predetermined cycles, which brings us to the 4th mistake in change management…


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Change Management Mistake 4: Canceling Agreed Meetings Without Explanation

This mistake is particularly tricky because its origin is quite understandable:

Suppose we have scheduled bi-weekly meetings to inform about the progress of the change project.

It can happen that by the time of the planned update meeting, the changes that were supposed to be implemented or communicated have not yet occurred.

There is essentially nothing to communicate.

Some leaders tend to cancel the meeting, thinking:

“There’s nothing new. I’ll just cancel the meeting. There’s nothing new, so I don’t need to waste my people’s time. And I don’t need to explain it either; after all, everyone should be glad when the calendar isn’t so full.”

The problem is non-communication. In this case, the lack of communication about why the meeting was canceled leads employees to make their own assumptions.

In transformation processes, the rumor mill is already running high! If meetings are canceled without explanation, especially just 20 minutes before the meeting, everyone in the company thinks:

“Oh no. Something terrible is happening, that’s why the meeting is canceled. Something is up that they don’t want to tell us.”

And suddenly, everyone is even more anxious and spends half the day calling everyone else to find out the real reason behind the canceled meeting.

Therefore, update and status meetings for all change initiatives must be held.

Even if, due to a lack of news, the meeting lasts only 20, 10, or 5 minutes. But this reliability is a critical psychological anchor for unsettled employees. Hence, the meetings must be kept!

Maybe employees have new questions that they can finally ask during this time.

Update meetings provide security in a time of uncertainty – therefore, they should not be canceled at short notice!


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Change Management Mistake 5: Overreacting

Besides the mistakes of communicating too little or acting too little, there is also the opposite:

Some leaders become overly active during changes and think:

“Okay, now I need to show that something is happening, now I need to do something. I need to be active and show my people that I have everything under control!”

And then they do many crazy things that no one can understand.

No one knows why it’s being done now.

And employees think:

“Are they out of their minds? I mean, once we run to the right, then we run to the left, then we go straight ahead, then we stop, then we run back again. Where are we actually supposed to go? They obviously have no plan!”

Any form of overreacting, of unconsidered and inconsistent behavior, wastes energy. Or even makes the actual changes harder.

We need to proceed calmly.

We need a sensible approach to follow.

Of course, surprises can occur, and plans may not be implementable as expected.

If, after a week, we realize,

“Wow, the direction we took is not the right one. We will change the direction again and then continue in the other direction.”

That is completely okay, as long as it is communicated reasonably!

If this just happens without explanation, one direction one moment, another the next, everyone thinks – “No one has a clue what’s actually being done.”

There may be a plan. But it’s not recognizable. Or it’s not communicated clearly.

If you have ever been sailing, you know that sailboats can never sail in a straight line.

A sailboat always needs to reset its sails. From the outside, it almost looks like the captain doesn’t know where to go because he is tacking back and forth.

But in reality, that is the only way to make progress.

And sometimes it’s the same with changes.

Therefore, there should be

no overreacting and actions should not look like blind overreacting. Thus, reasonable, continuous communication is very important here as well.


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Feel free to download the infographic below as a reminder for your change process.


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