Challenging Change: Turning 5 Pitfalls of Change into Program Advantages

Tara Holwegner

Challenging Change: Turning 5 Pitfalls of Change into Program Advantages

Introducing change into an industrial environment is not a simple task. It involves transitioning from the current, comfortable state to a “new way,” and it’s likely to cause tension within your organization.

Whether you’re introducing new technology, undertaking a loss elimination project, implementing improvements to standard work, or adopting an asset management-focused mindset, you and your teams are likely to face some challenges. In our experience, many organizations looking to transform their programs from reactive to reliable encounter several common pitfalls. By addressing the challenges upfront, you can turn these common challenges into strong advantages for your program.

An online search will show you there are many change models. Some traditional and well-known models include Kotter, Lewin, Prosci®, and Kubler-Ross. Most models share five basic concepts:

  1. Dissatisfaction with the current state or an acknowledgment that the current state is not ideal.
  2. Shared understanding of a defined “future state” or “new way.”
  3. Steadily implementing the new way and navigating through the chaos.
  4. Recognizing and managing resistance to change.
  5. Sustaining the “new way” so that it becomes an integrated “way things are.”

Each milestone in these universal phases of change constitutes a risk to the success of your improvement initiative. The good news? The phases can be anticipated and planned for, and their inherent challenges can be overcome. The level of effort and intensity to navigate will depend on the magnitude of the change, your current environment, and the workplace culture.

But never fear! A structured approach for managing the “people risk” in your change is possible. Change is a multi-step endeavor, and the most important first step is defining your “why.”

Challenge #1: Defining Your “Why”

Simon Sinek said it best when he said, “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.”

The first step is defining what is changing and why. It’s important to define the “why” from two perspectives to prevent disengagement and confusion, and to try to minimize resistance (you will have resistance – expect it and plan for it).

  • The business perspective– the business case for change.
  • The individual perspective –the personalized benefits the change will realize.

Before asking people to change the way they do things, you need to define what exactly is changing – specifically, what is the difference between the current state and where we want to be in different business performance areas such as:

  • Production levels
  • Quality measures
  • Safety
  • Speed
  • Costs
  • Efficiency
  • Responsiveness
  • Market

That reasoning is the “why” for the change.

Next, put the “what” in a context that matters to your stakeholders, so it is relatable and personal.

  • Why are we implementing the change?
  • What’s at risk if we don’t implement the change?
  • Who will be impacted?

With these details, you can define the personal why and the benefits for each stakeholder group, then wrap those into your communication. 

I recommend capturing the “whys” for your change in an elevator speech.

As a best practice, the business “why” should be communicated by leadership. It should be explained as part of the business vision and strategy. The personalized “why” typically has credibility when delivered by the department manager or a supervisor close to the impacted stakeholder.

Challenge #2: Developing Effective Sponsors

Prosci®is an organization focused on change management research, training, and best practices. In their 11th edition of Best Practices in Change Management, Prosci states that “active and visible sponsorship is the single greatest contributor to the success of a change initiative over 25 years, by a 4:1 margin.”

This means projects with effective sponsors are 73% more likely to meet or exceed objectives. Conversely, projects with ineffective sponsors are only 30% more likely to meet objectives. These projects also frequently experience stalls during implementation, which can influence stakeholders to believe that the change isn’t very important.

To avoid this pitfall, sponsors need to be aware of how critical they are to the change and understand what they’re being asked to do. Just as everyone impacted by the change needs education and awareness of their role, sponsors need to have guidance and support to execute their duties and promote the change.

Typical barriers to excellent sponsorship include:

  • A lack of time or resources.
  • A tendency to delegate executive sponsor duties to another manager.
  • A basic misunderstanding of the “people” side of change.

To mitigate the risk of ineffective sponsorship, try these approaches:

  • Educate sponsors on the change process, their role, and best practices.
  • Provide an elevator speech script to sponsors that highlights the business objectives the change is trying to achieve.
  • Create a list or calendar of activities for sponsors, broken down by project phase (PMBOKphases includeInitiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring, and Control).
  • Provide sponsors withemail drafts for critical communications.
  • Plan and help sponsors record video communications to share at project milestones.

Videos are excellent communication tools. With the right planning, they require minimal effort and time from the sponsor but can reach and engage a wide variety of stakeholders with a range of perspectives. Videos do not need a high level of production, and can quickly and easily highlight key stakeholder involvement, celebrate successes, and communicate “what’s next” with the change.

Since sponsor activities are executed throughout the project, it is helpful to have everything in one place for the sponsor and their support team. Below is a sample Sponsor Activity list.

Challenge #3: Identifying and Involving Stakeholders

When people are actively involved in designing the new system or the “new way,” they take ownership and see themselves in that future state. Involving end users in the solution design is essential yet often missed during the planning stages of change.

When identifying stakeholders, I recommend casting a wide net to ensure you assess and understand the degree to which as many people as possible will be impacted. Having business processes and roles defined in a responsibility matrix is key for you to help manage change.

My recommended approach is to have standard work processes defined for key operational processes and to utilize a RASI responsibility matrix to identify which roles are involved in each process. Having this defined makes it easier to determine the degree of impact the change will have on each role. 

RASI Responsibility Matrix

A chart designed to ensure clear communication and smooth workflows across all parts of a team by clarifying employee roles and responsibilities for each task, milestone, and decision that takes place throughout a project.
Source: Forbes

Stakeholders who will see a greater impact should be involved in all phases of the project, from initiation to monitoring and control. I recommend having one online place to store all change-related artifacts and updated plans.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, including stakeholders that might be resistant to the effort – and even making them responsible for the success of the effort – is one effective approach to mitigate skeptical resistance and turn potential detractors into change advocates.

Challenge #4: Creating a Structured Approach

To return to the research, Prosci’s study found that projects with a “strong, effective, structured approach to change management are six times as likely to be effective as those without change management” (Best Practices in Change Management, 2020).

In addition to clear objectives, you can expect to avoid choppy and slowed execution by planning in advance for resistance to change, preparing the training and communication, and putting metrics in place so that you can see how the change is progressing during and post-implementation. 

Challenge #5: Developing Evaluation Measures

If there is no way to measure success or monitor change adoption, how will you know if your time and efforts have produced results? Evaluation measures should be included at each phase of the project, from initiation through monitoring and control. Measures will be different at each phase because you’ll be assessing different things.

During change planning and execution, you’ll want to look at team behaviors and ask yourself:

  • Have people changed the way they work?
  • Has the work itself changed (such as processes, practices, skillsets, or equipment)?
  • How well are teams executing the “new way”?

Beloware examples of operational change tools and sample measures I recommend utilizing. I use these during reliability program transformations to indicate if the change is successful. Resources and activities include:

  • Coaching cards – a checklist for standard work adherence that supervisors can use when observing work.
  • Partnership agreements – agreements between work teams to fulfill the responsibilities of the change. Are people doing what was documented and agreed to?
  • Define how the new behaviors relate to the business case for the change. For example, if we improve Preventive Maintenancecompliance through good work management practices, downtime will decrease, throughput will increase, and revenue will grow.

In later implementation phases, measuring progress may include defining reliability and asset management program improvements in a series of maturity stages, like Reactive, Emerging, Proactive, and Excellent.

Assess various stages of the project to evaluate the baseline and improvements or changes in scores. This way, the team can verify if behaviors have changed and performance is successfully moving up the maturity matrix, such as moving from reactive to emerging. This can help you define if a pause is needed to correct course and achieve greater maturity.

If you developed a transformation map to visualize your program over time, progress can be documented along the way. Below is an example of a customizable transformation map I recommend implementing.

Outside of measurement, key activities that need to continue to support the change include prioritizing ongoing:

  • Communication
  • Training
  • Supplemental resources
  • Recognition and rewards for participating in the change

You’ll want to continue these activities until the change becomes “business as usual”, with people freely and easily working in the changed state and new employees being onboarded with this new “current state.”


There is no better time than now to move away from the “fix it when it breaks” mentality to a proactive mindset of failure prevention. The challenges that plague efforts to change people’s behavior can be overcome by following some foundational steps.

Start by defining the “why.” This will help to adequately prepare sponsors and stakeholders for change efforts. Make sure to include all stakeholders and set up measures to evaluate change progress.

When you can measure change progress and sustainability, you start to effectively “change the change”, avoid the common pitfalls, and set your improvement efforts up for success.

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About the Author

Tara is the Product Development and Intellectual Property Manager at Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Tara transforms LCE's reliability and asset management e...