Explore the Levels of Change Management

6 Reasons Why Change Management Fails and How To Avoid Them

Kelli Smith

5 Mins

A female Prosci change practitioner holds a cell phone while mutlitasking on a laptop

It’s commonly said that 70% of change initiatives fail, and there are many reasons why. Change is inevitable for most organizations, but an effective change management strategy and plan helps you to prepare leaders and employees for success.

We have identified six common pitfalls when trying to implement change. Keep reading to learn how to avoid or overcome them, and implement change successfully. 

What Is Change Management and Why Is It Important?

Change management is an enabling framework that guides the people side of change and supports people through the process. As business objectives evolve and grow with changing trends, so will strategic goals. Effective change management facilitates this growth and prepares your business to embrace the new strategy. 

We know from Prosci research that for change to be successful, employees and leaders must adequately prepare for successful implementation. 

Want to learn how to successfully introduce change? Explore our change management solutions. 



6 Reasons Why Change Management Fails

There are many protocols to follow for effective change management within an organization. Here's what to avoid—and why—and solutions you should attempt instead.

1. Communication flaws

Prosci research shows ineffective communication between leaders and employees can cause obstacles during change initiatives. Without clear and consistent communication, there’s a lack of shared vision, which means individuals will struggle to align their work with the new change. 

For example, an IT distribution company wanted to reduce manual data entry by introducing robotic automation. But their unclear communication sparked dissatisfaction among their employees, who took it to mean that “robots were taking their jobs.” The company planned to reduce employee workload and not replace individual employees, especially as the new change hinged on the employees being on board. 


Effective change management communication goes beyond simply telling employees that change is coming. It's about being transparent about why it's happening, what it means for them, how it will impact their position, and more. Our Change Management Certification Program gives you the research-based skills to communicate effectively during change and achieve a successful implementation.

laptops on a table

2. Resistance to change 

Resistance is a normal reaction to change, but when it’s not managed effectively, it can lead to the failure of change initiatives. Resistance typically happens when there’s a lack of understanding around the change, comfort with the current state, or fear of the unknown. When transformation efforts happen, it’s essential to explain the business reasons behind the change and its employee benefits. 

Resistance can hinder successful change management because it takes much longer to implement initiatives, and the effects often ripple throughout an organization. 


One way you can overcome resistance is by listening to the biggest dissenters. You might be tempted to avoid these voices, hoping they’ll hop on board as time passes, but listening to them, giving them space to be heard, and providing them with relevant information can help overcome resistance. 

The Prosci ADKAR® Model for individual change begins with Awareness and Desire. That's because individuals must first be aware of the change and then feel there’s something in it for them to participate in the change.

You can build Awareness and Desire by sharing data and case studies of successful change initiatives to combat resistant behaviors. When employees can practically understand how and why there’s change, and its impacts on them, they’re more likely to support it and participate in it.

ADKAR elements@2x-May-16-2022-09-47-04-42-PM

3. Lack of reinforcement

Reinforcement mechanisms are essential to sustain change because employees can revert to old behaviors. Without reinforcement, change initiatives may fail to become part of the organizational culture, making them much more challenging to implement. 

Reinforcement provides clarity to employees by reminding them of the goals and objectives of the change initiative. A one-off communication introducing the change won’t bring the entire organization on board. Instead, consistent reinforcement can iron out any kinks, answer questions, and align the organization with the change initiative. 


Reinforcement is the last stage of the Prosci ADKAR Model, which provides you with guidance on how to sustain a change once implemented. Managers can reinforce change by offering feedback to employees about how well they’ve adapted to the transformation process and sharing ways to improve as needed. Rewards and recognition reinforce new behaviors aligned with the change.

You can also reinforce change initiatives by measuring performance and implementing accountability mechanisms. It’s important not to waste the time and resources that go into implementing a change by failing to reinforce it. 

employees at a change

4. Inadequate sponsorship 

Sponsors are directly accountable to organizational executives, provide support and resources, and set the tone for the change. Sponsors understand the organization’s cultural values and ensure the change management process aligns. 

However, sponsorship can lead to failures in change management when sponsors lack time and resources or underestimate the importance of the people side of change. Sponsorship has been the top contributor to successful change in every Prosci benchmarking study since 1998, but it has also been one of the biggest obstacles to success.

An effective sponsor needs to understand their role in the change process, the resources needed, and the change initiative's purpose. 


The Prosci ABCs of sponsorship come from over two decades of Best Practices in Change Management research:

  • A (Active and visible participation throughout the project) – A sponsor's continued presence creates and sustains change momentum. 
  • B (Build a coalition of sponsorship) – The primary sponsor should include key stakeholders and senior executives to advocate for change and ensure it spreads across all parts of the business. 
  • C (Communicate support and promote the change to impacted groups) Communicating the right information at the right times during change is key, and sponsors should be proactive.

Use the Prosci sponsorship checklist to ensure your sponsors are well-equipped. 

5. Lack of alignment

According to research, 74% of leaders say they have involved employees in change initiatives, yet only 42% of employees report feeling included. A lack of alignment around goals and objectives makes it much harder for employees to adopt the change. 

Project teams, leadership and management must be aligned with daily work activities and objectives during the change process. A lack of alignment can lead to a lack of trust, which trickles down to how employees view leadership, and affects motivation and morale. 


The Prosci 3-Phase Process is a structured and adaptable approach to helping people adopt changes at scale.

Phase 1 – Prepare Approach, involves knowing the end goal, acknowledging who has to do their jobs differently, and what action is required to succeed. Understanding this from the outset keeps everyone involved aligned and provides a space to clarify any uncertainty.

Phase 2 – Manage Change, is the longest phase and focuses on preparing and equipping people through the change process. The first two phases ensure alignment occurs between leadership, management and project teams. 

Phase 3 – Sustain Outcomes looks at what's needed to achieve results for the long term and who will take over responsibility for outcomes after the project or initiative is done.

6. Culture clash 

A company’s culture is key to how well it can manage change. In fact, 59% of participants in Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research said that organizational culture awareness is very important. A history of struggling to adapt to change, internal politics, and existing silos can contribute to a culture that’s resistant to change. Addressing these aspects of an organization’s culture is essential to increase the chance of success of change initiatives. 

Other research reveals that 80% of employees experience cultural tensions or competing priorities, and many are at risk of doing the wrong tasks because the change process doesn’t align with their day-to-day activities. 

This misalignment between change initiatives and workplace culture leads to confusion and decreased productivity if employees aren’t working on the right tasks to implement the change successfully.

Importance of Organizational Culture Awareness

Culture change management


The first step of the Prosci ADKAR Model, Awareness of the need for change. This awareness drives a clearer understanding of the change initiative so employees can align themselves with the change. It can overcome some of the challenges of a previously resistant company culture.

The more employees understand about why a change needs to happen, the less they will exhibit resistance behaviors. This will improve your organization's chances of success with the transformation.

Why Change Management Fails and How To Overcome It

Change management failures happen—but we know that a big reason is that businesses focus too much on the technical aspect of the change instead of the people who will adopt and use it. We developed the Prosci Methodology for change management to address both the technical and people sides effectively, and help businesses and organizations grow stronger in the process. 

Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior leader in change management and organizational development, with deep experience in leadership development and coaching. Before joining Prosci, Kelli was Senior Manager, Enterprise Change Management for Aflac, where she led a team to establish the enterprise-wide change management methodology, build a community of practice, introduce a practitioner competency model, and grow the organization’s change maturity. Previously, Kelli led strategic changes at Anthem for a $27 million Medicare project portfolio. Kelli is a Certified Change Management Professional™ (CCMP™) with certifications in DiSC® and DDI® Interaction Management Leadership Development.

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