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Recover from Change Gone Wrong

Sep 14, 2022

Written by Roxanne Brown

“What if it looked like we were succeeding and now things are going wrong? How do we recover?"

It’s not unusual for a project team to get overconfident about how a change is going and then experience a big reaction from stakeholders because they underestimated the impact to people. Project teams are always looking for ways to optimize so if things are going well in the beginning, it may appear that a structured change approach isn't necessary.

Although conflict and a range of reactions are an expected part of every change, the question is about the amount or degree of reaction that the project didn’t expect or didn’t prepare for. When you’re in the middle of this it can be hard to see the real concerns versus what’s just normal venting.

You may be tempted to ignore or diminish the reactions. While that may seem like a practical response, you're setting things up to make it harder for people to make the transition you're seeking. If people don't feel respected in the change process, it will take you more energy to motivate them. Of course you can take a harder, more directive position but that again is a short-term solution because you're using fear of you as the primary motivator. People will start checking with you about everything before they make a single move. That control may sound good in some ways but it will wear you out and cost you money by in effect under-employing your people.

On the other hand, you may be tempted to react to every request and solve every complaint. This might be a good strategy initially but it's not sustainable and not good for the change initiative. When you’re in constant reactive mode, the change initiative loses credibility. People want to feel confident in the change even if they don’t say that directly. Reacting to their every request diminishes their confidence, even when they’re getting what they say they want.

There’s a phrase we often use to describe how to address this situation and that is “take back your project.” That means you move out of a mostly reactive state to a mostly proactive state to bring calm to the situation. Removing this drama leads to better decision-making and outcomes.

Do what’s necessary to address the immediate needs as reasonably as possible while you investigate the true issues. Once you have an understanding of the true concerns, you can address them as part of your change process. For example, if people felt surprised by something, misinformed, or not included well enough, you can adjust your communication approach to be more frequent or include the information they need to feel confident in what’s happening. There are many things you can adjust to reasonably address concerns.

Listen for what people need, do what’s reasonable to make it easier for people to change and filter out what’s not constructive.