How to diagnose a derailed change — and get it back on track

We’ve all been there – the change strategy was good, the action plan was sound, emails went out and then…nothing happened. What went wrong and how can we make our changes stick?

In our new book, Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Change , we offer a framework for how organizations can identify pain points and overcome them. Here are five ways to diagnose a derailed change and get the organization back on track:

  1. Blindsided by New Market Realities

Imagine we’re Blockbuster, confidently moving forward with our store-based strategy when Netflix completely disrupts the market. Many organizations make the mistake of locking on a strategy and not staying close enough to the changing marketplace.

To avoid this pain point, we recommend you sense and shift, regularly monitoring the marketplace and adjusting strategy as needed.

  1. Political Infighting

We often see departments or functions fighting each other and not partnering to get the changes implemented. Although it is tempting to ignore politics, politics tend to escalate unless we tackle them directly.

To overcome political infighting, we need to unite people with a common vision and take the time to understand people’s concerns and enroll them in the process. We can start by identifying key influencers, the opinion leaders who can sway others.

Gaining the support of key influencers in each group will add credibility, generate positive buzz, and reduce the chances of political infighting.

  1. Active or Passive Resistance

Often in our rush to get the changes implemented, we ignore the skeptics. Ignoring them makes it more likely that they will actively or passively resist the change. Often skeptics have legitimate concerns that, if addressed, can turn them into advocates.

Engaging skeptics has many benefits. They can be catalysts for rethinking different aspects of the change to make it more successful. Addressing their issues often leads to their increased ownership and commitment as the change rolls out.

And engaging them sends a powerful signal to the rest of the organization that constructive feedback is welcome. 

  1. Disengagement and Apathy

So often we tell people what to do and then wonder why people are disengaged and resentful. Telling and selling rarely creates the passion and innovation necessary to succeed.

Instead, we need to help everyone understand the reasons that change is needed by presenting a strong business case, stories that resonate, and even a short mantra such as “Innovation is our Lifeblood” or “We Put Customers First” that captures the essence of a change and acts as a guidepost.

In addition, we want to engage those impacted early in the process to solicit their ideas on how to implement the change at all levels of the organization.

  1. Exhaustion, Stress, Burnout

Change fatigue, exhaustion, and stress are at epidemic proportions in most organizations today. We can beat change fatigue in our teams and ourselves by sunsetting obsolete programs and clarifying priorities so that everyone knows where to expend effort.

Consider running pilots and prototyping to avoid glitches before roll-out and then conduct after action reviews to learn from mistakes.

Finally, managing our own energy and helping others do the same with micro-breaks and recovery time will build long run endurance.

By diagnosing these common pain points and taking action to course correct, we can get our change efforts back on track and improve our organization’s stragility skills in the process.

Lisa Hillenbrand and Ellen R. Auster are the authors of Stragility: Excelling at Strategic Changes. Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates, and previously served as global marketing director at Procter & Gamble. Auster is professor of strategic management and the Founding Director of the Schulich Centre for Teaching Excellence at the Schulich School of Business, York University. Visit