Change Management Myths
Written by Tim Creasey
Updated: December 11, 2023
Published: August 11, 2015
Prosci first released a tutorial on dispelling change management myths in March of 2006. Here, we bring back the myths from the original tutorial and add three additional myths that have emerged in recent years. Each of these myths represent a "change management" challenge for bringing change management into your organization. Some result from a lack of Awareness of the need for change management, while others stem from a lack of Knowledge about what change management really is. As you encounter the myths in your work, be sure you work to understand the root cause of the myth as well as the underlying drivers and concerns of your audience.
Change Management Myths
Answering Myth 1: "I'm responsible for the 'hard' side of the project, not the 'soft' stuff."
Myth 1 responses:
- "Project teams are ultimately responsible for delivering value to the organization through their project. If your project requires people to change the way they do their jobs, then the 'soft' side is also your responsibility."
- "The value your project ultimately delivers to the organization is tied to how quickly people adopt the change and how effectively they use the solution - just as much as it is tied to the 'hard' side of the solution design."
- "Research shows that change management directly contributes to projects meeting their objectives and achieving the ROI they expect. Prosci's latest research found that projects with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management."
- "Think about a recent project you worked on that did not meet its expectations. Were the root causes related to the 'hard' side of the project or the 'soft' side?"
- "A perfectly designed solution that no one uses is ultimately of little value to the organization. A perfect process that no one follows does not add any value; a perfect technology that no one uses adds no value."
Reader comments and responses:
"Soft skills are as important as hard skills. If the project leader is not liked, his ideas, howsoever brilliant, will fall by the wayside. I once was a member of a team headed by someone with very limited conceptual and technical skills. But this man was loved and respected for his people skills. He was a great motivator, and a man of integrity. We killed ourselves working hard and smart to make the project a great success!" - Gul Sheikh
"This used to be me until I realized that if you take care of the 'soft' stuff the 'hard' side is much easier to manage." - Bev B
"Maybe its time to stop referring to the management of the people side of change as the 'soft' stuff because there is nothing soft about it. A motivated, organized, aligned, and skilled set of leaders and employees can deliver changes and ideas that are as or more impactful then any technical or process change (look at all of the advancements to date they were all thought up and implemented by people). Come to think of it, the employees are the ones who implement the technical and process changes and it are these employees who pick up the slack when the process fails to meet expectations. It would be impossible to implement anything without them so it is in everyone's best interest to maximize their value. If that doesn't make sense, then try this... you wouldn't use half a tube of tooth paste and not use the rest would you? No, you wouldn't. You would want to get every last drop out of that tube. If you didn't, you would end up spending twice as much per year on toothpaste. Well then, why would you only tap in to a small fraction of an employees potential?" - J Suller
"Every project that is conducted in different organizations needs Change Management as long as you are dealing with people. Whether you are installing new systems or changing the way operations work, you will be dealing with people. The transition phase has to be well planned and the skills will need to be imparted in a very efficient way. My experience points out that this is the side that is always neglected whereas its importance can never be overly emphasized. The success of transition depends solely on this." - Mafu Tetyana
"Ask your Management who the very best project managers are in your business. Then ask them what is it that makes them so good. We did this across multiple business divisions and multiple projects and found that not one Manager cited the 'hard' skills as the differentiating factor, it was their 'soft' skills - their ability to liaise, negotiate and engage the people with whom they were working that enabled them to excel as project managers." - Bronwen C
"Soft skills are far more important than hard skills when it comes to managing people, whether for change or otherwise. In particular, managing change requires knowledge of the psychological reasons why most people don't immediately jump on board with great enthusiasm. Change is frightening - it is delves into the unknown for many. In order to effectively change people you need to work with their emotional reactions - and their concerns. You need to have the time to listen to them, to offer support, and to move forward with them at a pace they can handle. All soft-skills. Furthermore, you need to continually reinforce the movement forward by rewarding successive approximations and planning for the potential to regression to the mean. All soft skill concept." - ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.
"By not paying attention to critical skills such as effective listening, understanding and addressing resistance, evaluating individual resilience, managing conflicts, motivating, encouraging, delegating and other so-called 'soft skills', leaders and champions can hasten the death of any change management initiative." - Prema M-Pillai
"From inception to completion, we have to see to it how effectively we are managing the technical, financial and human aspects to ensure the success of the project. We cannot overemphasize on one aspect at the detriment of the other one. The more so when we consider the interdependencies of the different elements involved in the change initiative." - Luxmi Samboo
"The fact is that in Organizations, there is always some form of change management underway. Being focused on impacting people within as well as outside at times, there is always people touch even when we speak of the hard side. In other words, even in hard side, the soft side is integrated with the hard side. What is needed is continuous stroking of the soft skills on a continuing basis. Thus, soft side is always there when hard side is or is not in operation." - Harinarayana Kompella
Answering Myth 2: "I have a communication plan, isn't that enough?"
Myth 2 responses:
- "While communication is important, change management does not equal effective communications. Change management also includes sponsorship, coaching, proactive resistance management, training and reinforcement."
- "A 2009 study with 575 participants cited communication as the number two contributor to success, behind the active and visible participation by the project sponsor."
- "It is great that you have a communication plan - but make sure you customize messages for specific audiences and think through the right timing, mechanism, content and sender. Also remember that benchmarking data shows that employees prefer to get change messages from two senders - senior leaders and immediate supervisors."
- "You may be telling employees what you are doing, but these are not the only messages they want to hear. The top reason for resistance among employees is a lack of awareness of the need for change - why is the change taking place. Are you answering this question in your communication?"
Reader comments and responses:
"A communication plan is just one piece of the change management puzzle. As a project manager, could you execute a project with just a work breakdown structure (WBS)?" - Kathryn H
"A communication plan that is not implemented, has actually failed. Communication takes place when the message is sent out, understood by the other person and acted upon. The acting upon of the communication is the real objective of the communication. If the plan is simply held in the mind of the project leader, but not communicated, it remains a mere thought. Telepathy does not work. The project leader must not only have a great communication strategy, but must strive hard to use all channels to get the message across (remember: There is nothing called 'overcommunication'), motivate the staff, make resources available, provide support, remove difficulties from the part of the project team, and defend it from the wrongful criticism of others." - Gul Sheikh
"A communication plan is 'must have' and not a 'nice to have' part of a project plan. Having one and being able to execute on it reduces the problems that are common with ad hoc communication approaches. However, the content of the plan is equally as important and must detail actions on how to tell a compelling story about the change. In an article titled 'The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management', the author stresses that creating a compelling story is a critical success factor to change (a fact that Prosci's research supports). The article also states that to create a compelling story, the communications about an upcoming change must tell 5 separate stories at the same time: 1) impact on society, 2) impact on the customer, 3) impact on the working team, 4) and impact on the individual, and 5) impact on the company. Research has shown that each of these 5 sources carries a 20% weighting to it. So, if your compelling story about change only focuses on the impact to the company and does so effectively, 20% of your employees will be motivated (80% won't be motivated for change). I am amazed at how many communications focus solely on the impact to the company (beating the competition, industry leaders, share price, etc) or the customer. If you want to effectively motivate your workforce, make sure your messages effectively address all 5." - J Suller
"A communication plan is critical to your success. I'm so glad you have one. Now, how does that communication plan motivate, reassure, and help others move forward with you?" - ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.
"The communication vehicle/medium under any communication plan should always address WIIFM. Without have a clearcut business case for each of your communication vehicle, any robust and scheduled communication plan will not work. Also the communication plan should address the needs of all the stakeholders, internal as well as external. Most importantly the communication plan should directly talk to the overall project plan." - Kartik
"Having a communication plan is ok. But do we communicate? I frequently observed manager be proud to have a communication plan. Having a plan is only the beginning." - Michel Belleau, Practices director
"The communication plan needs to be dynamic; evolving as the change initiative progresses. Having a plan isn't the same as investing in communication throughout the journey. Fundamental to the plan is the individualised stakeholder engagement (as also suggested by Kartik) based on a commitment chart analysis. This ensures that the change is tailored to the individual drivers and needs of the key stakeholders. More important than the plan itself is the coaching and monitoring to support the consistent and effective communication of the key change messages. Is the vision compelling enough to motivate others to support change?" - Kylie Sykes
Answering Myth 3: "We are introducing change and managing the project, so aren't we managing change?"
Myth 3 responses:
- "Just because you are introducing a change does not mean that you are managing the people side of that change. Change management is a systematic approach to accelerate adoption and mitigate resistance."
- "Change management is the process, tools and techniques for managing the people side of change. It is not sitting around in a circle singing 'kumbaya'. It is a proven management process for leading people through change."
- "There are five 'levers' you can pull to encourage effective change - sponsorship, communication, coaching, training and resistance management. These are the tools of organizational change management. Effective change management uses all of these tools in the right mix to achieve the desired outcome."
- "In the same way that you have tools to manage the technical side of the change - issue tracking, documentation, work breakdown structures, design processes - there are specific tools you can use to encourage adoption, to mitigate resistance and to manage change."
Reader comments and responses:
"It couldn't be better said, I implement SAP projects as certified financial consultant and unless top management 'buy in', communication (offer something in place of what is to be lost in terms of status quo), and effective training to foster collective ownership to the operatives are well handled, you would wish you had not initiated the project in the first place." - sylvester
"But is it the right change and are you managing effectively? Many change initiatives lack diagnostic analysis to ensure the problem - rather than the symptoms - is being targeted from the outset. Without this you can end up revisiting the change months or years down the track. To be effective change requires review of previous change initiatives and an honest, reflective evaluation of change readiness. Change management is much more than project management - the level of success is often related to the investment in analysis and planning prior to determining the change." - Kylie Sykes
"I implement health information systems in local government hospitals, introducing the system and leaving it there is not the solution, either does, just obtain buy in. Managing the change was awareness, forums, how they are being affected as a doctors and the bigger picture of the hospital and the health care for all in the province and later in the country. Training was the key element together with reinforcement, noting that doctors were the drive of the system. Managing change is knowing the drives of the change and managing them to effective change." - Taurai B Jack
Answering Myth 4: "We don't need change management."
Myth 4 responses:
- "Change management helps to increase the speed of adoption of change, the ultimate utilization of the tools and the proficiency of employees in the future state."
- "Multiple studies show a direct correlation between how well you manage change and whether or not you meet project objectives. If you want to deliver on the potential value of your project to the organization, you need to manage the people side of change."
- "Prosci's latest research found that projects with excellent change management were six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management."
- "A McKinsey Quarterly article measured the expected ROI and the realized ROI of 40 major projects. They found a significant correlation between the effectiveness of change management and the gap between expected and realized ROI. For the statistically minded, r2 = 0.70 based on the analysis."
- "In an empowered workforce, change can no longer be mandated. Change must be managed - by the senior leaders who initiate and sponsor change, by the front-line supervisors who manage and coach employees impacted by change, by the project teams who manage change, and by others in the organization who support employees during change."
Reader comments and responses:
"I would really like to know how we can ensure that these critical messages reach the people they need to. Too many senior managers and executives view change management as something touchy feely that you do if you have spare resource but not as a critical component of what they want to achieve." - Ems
"@Ems. The responsibility for communications during change management must be dispersed in just about the same way, management disperses control and authority, to ensure its impact is felt in all areas of the organization. The communications plan will define critical messages and who best should deliver such messages. The role does not begin and end with change initiators or executive management. On previous projects I have worked on, we tried to identify, groom and select a team, drawn from different grade levels and different areas of the organization. This team, which was named 'The Change Champions' in addition to facilitating communications, also shared a good deal of the burden of impact assessment and reporting." - Emmanuel Ijekhuemen
Three new myths have been added to the original myths tutorial. The final two myths are interesting and a departure from the earlier myths. Many of the earlier myths are predicated on a lack of awareness of the need for change management. Over the last several years, however, there has certainly been a growing recognition and appreciation of the value change management delivers - in fact, a recognition of the need for change management was the top trend identified by participants in both the 2007 and 2009 benchmarking studies conducted by Prosci. Myths 6 and 7 are different because they both acknowledge the value change management brings but still represent misconceptions about the implementation of change management.
Answering Myth 5: "Change management will slow us down or push us over budget."
Myth 5 responses:
- "Even if applying a structured approach to change management slows down the project or causes it to go slightly over budget, data shows that projects using effective change management are more likely to meet objectives. The investment of time and resources now will pay off in the end in terms of ROI and project value."
- "Benchmarking data actually shows that projects applying effective change management are more likely to stay on schedule. Dealing with poorly managed change after the fact can significantly impact timelines and schedules."
- "Benchmarking data also shows that projects applying effective change management are more likely to stay on budget. Addressing resistance, opt-outs and work-arounds is costly."
Reader comments and responses:
"Not every project should have change management. If the project sponsor feels that they must meet a deadline no matter what the cost or implications to the employees, they are completely missing the essence of change management. Change management cannot be crammed into the project last minute. That's not change management. Trying to apply change management in that type of scenario only gives change management a bad rap .... 'Why didn't it work - we had change management?!'" - Laura
"Change management is risk management. Are you willing to risk people avoiding your new <insert your particular e.g. vision, system, process, policy, etc.>? This results in a complete waste of time and money, disengaged and frustrated people, and cynicism that change doesn't work so why bother (i.e. flavour or management fad of the month so just wait it out). Change management is outcome focused - we are all on the same team, working towards a common goal." - Erin Waddell
Answering Myth 6: "We assigned a change management resource for the project, isn't that enough?"
Myth 6 responses:
- "Change management is not done just by the change management resource on the project - it takes concerted effort by senior leaders, middle managers and front-line supervisors."
- "Research shows that in times of change, employees want to hear business messages from someone at the top and messages about personal impacts from their supervisor. Management throughout the organization must be the voice of change - not just the change management resource."
- "Employees will look to the behaviors of senior leaders, managers and supervisors to see how committed the organization is to the change. Management throughout the organization must demonstrate their support though both their words and their actions."
- "Senior leaders have three key roles as sponsors of change: 1) participate actively and visibly, 2) build a coalition of sponsorship and 3) communicate directly to employees. The change management resource can enable these actions by planning for them and coaching upwards, but the senior leader must execute on them."
- "Research has identified five key roles for managers and supervisors in times of change: 1) communicator, 2) advocate, 3) coach, 4) liaison and 5) resistance manager. The change management resource can provide training and coaching, but managers and supervisors must execute on these roles."
- "Change management is more than the processes and tools followed by the change management resource. Change management is also a set of roles that must be fulfilled by senior leaders, managers and supervisors throughout the organization."
Answering Myth 7: "Our project is struggling, change management is the silver bullet."
Myth 7 responses:
- "While change management is certainly a critical factor for success, projects also need governance and direction provided by senior leaders and an effective 'technical' solution that can be implemented."
- "Prosci's PCT Model (Project Change Triangle) shows the three necessary components of any project or initiative - Leadership / Sponsorship, Project Management and Change Management. The simple assessment can help evaluate project strengths, weaknesses and risks."
- "Change management is a compliment to effective solution design and project management. Without a technical solution or defined 'change', change management will not be effective"
Reader comments and responses:
"If one views Change Management as a silver bullet, then one must remember that a bullet of any type is useless without the correct gun to fire it (you can't fire a bullet out of a cannon) and something to ensure it is fired at the correct target. Let's say you use change management practices to as part of a project to turn around a failing baseball team. If used 100% effectively, each member of that team will be Aware of what has to change and why. They will have a strong Desire to change and support it with 100% of their heart and sole. They will have the Knowledge and seek the Ability needed to change. The Reinforcement structure will be set and encourage change. With all of this done, your team is ready to be a well oiled and highly skilled baseball team; capable of beating any of the baseball teams out there. However, this will be of no help if the team shows up for its first game and it turns out that they were entered into a Football league." - J Suller
"Yes, it is. We have been struggling for the program and project management but essential to have strong execution for the change management. Otherwise, change management will be only change management. Basically, we need change-oriented person to kick off the change management. It is doing the right thing with right people."