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Jesse Jacoby

Many believe that organizations have to continually reinvent themselves in order to keep up with all that is changing around them. They point to the fact that those who cling to the status quo eventually die or are acquired by those who don’t, and they often – quite proudly – point to themselves as the poster child of what effective organizational change looks like.
All is not what it seems, however.
The truth is that whether organizations …

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Home » Change Leadership, Strategic Communications, Program Management

How Leaders Can Avoid Change Quagmires

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Company leaders often ask us about common pitfalls associated with organizational  change initiatives and how they can avoid them. The term  “pitfall,” defined as a hidden danger in the form of a covered pit used as a trap, implies a sudden occurrence. We prefer the term quagmire which more accurately describes what actually occurs in real life – the initiative slowly bogs down and becomes increasingly ineffective over time, not immediately.

While there certainly is a long list of quagmire-like things that leaders could do wrong, our experience reveals a few in particular that we see most frequently:

  • Say nothing until answers are known: Under-communicating limits the flow of information which can foster misunderstanding and decrease productivity. Water cooler “chatter” and informal grapevines flourish in the absence of official information and can cause employees to “fill in the blanks” themselves. Instead, leaders should communicate early and often, and not be afraid of candidly admitting if they do not have all the answers yet. Click here to read more about the importance of over-communicating.
  • Fail to provide a compelling reason for the change: Without a strong sense of urgency (why do we need to change? and what happens if we don’t change now?) and clear sense of direction (what’s your vision for the future? and how are we going to get there?), employees will not be compelled to change. Leaders should help frontline employees and middle managers understand how the changes will benefit them personally.
  • Appeal purely to the rational-logical side: Without connecting on an emotional level with employees, the change will likely not stick. Often business leaders believe their bullet-proof business case with big economic returns is enough to win the support of the masses—it is not! Instead, leaders need to articulate an emotional case for change that is just as compelling as the economic case. Click here to read more about how to use both heart and mind appeal.
  • Dictate changes from the top down: Insufficient involvement of stakeholders often results in disengagement and resistance. People embrace change more readily when they have a voice and a role in defining their future. Leaders should promote the creation of opportunities that engage priority stakeholders in the change process and equip middle managers to serve as change agents. Click here to read more about creating a network of change agents.
  • Delegate the management of change to HR: The tendency is to let the internal “people experts” handle the change stuff. Instead, leaders should be actively involved in directing the change effort, seeking out opportunities to walk the talk, and signal in high-profile ways how things will be different going forward.

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Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or

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