cart search

The path of organizational change is littered with good ideas that never delivered on the results they promised. Creating successful change is not easy, but we have the opportunity to learn lessons from others, thanks to best practices in change management. Prosci’s research studies provide data on what works and—sometimes more importantly—what does not work when implementing change.

Below are the top five obstacles to change management success, as reported by the 2018 edition of Best Practices in Change Management:

  1. Lack of executive support and active sponsorship
  2. Inadequate change management buy-in and resourcing
  3. Resistance and lack of support for the specific solution
  4. Change-resistant culture and organizational structure
  5. Change saturation and lack of prioritization

Read more about these common change management obstacles below:

1. Lack of Executive Support and Active Sponsorship

The largest obstacle reported by participants, lack of supportive and active executive sponsorship, is the most recent iteration of what continues to be a strong trend on the impact that sponsorship can have on change management work. Participants found gaps and difficulties in identifying and leveraging their executive sponsor due to leadership changes or sponsor involvement falling off.

In the same way that effective sponsorship can mobilize and activate the organization, poor sponsorship can inhibit and delay progress. Employees interpret an absent or inactive sponsor as an indication of how important - or unimportant - the initiative is.

2. Inadequate Change Management Buy-In and Resourcing

Lack of investment and resourcing for change management, often due to a lack of understanding of what change management actually is, was cited as another obstacle to successful change management work. When resources were not outright insufficient, allocated resources were often the first to be cut when budget concerns and competing projects arose.

Change management is not an activity that can be accomplished in one person’s free time. In fact, the Best Practices in Change Management research report demonstrates a strong correlation between effective resourcing for change management activities and meeting project objectives. In order to bring about successful adoption and usage, realize the benefits of a change, and avoid the cost of not changing, change management needs to be resourced according to the scope and scale of the change.

3. Resistance and Lack of Support for the Specific Solution

Resistance on all levels was strongly linked to impacted groups not understanding the business reasons for a change. This type of resistance, present at all levels of the organization, was especially fierce with groups directly impacted by the change. Further, impacted groups who did not understand the business reasons for change management often did not understand the business reasons for the change itself.

Creating buy-in for the change is a key step in any successful change management initiative and has been a pillar of the Prosci methodology from its inception. This starts by providing the why of the change up front—including both the business reasons for the change and the “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for each employee.

4. Change-resistant culture and organizational structure

Research has found that, due to the complex nature and/or a history of failed changes, the culture of an organization may foster resistance to change and change management. Internal politics, poor behavior control and personal agendas can also help shape a change-resistant culture. 

Successful change management depends on individual transitions as well as the environment that the change is done in. It is important to take a holistic look at your organization and ask hard and honest questions about if this environment will be friendly or oppositional to your change.

5. Change saturation and lack of prioritization

An organization with a large number of strategic, must-win projects and intensive change initiatives will naturally fatigue their employees with a saturation of change. In addition, this volume of change projects will cripple the ability of senior leaders and change managers to prioritize a change. This lack of prioritization and oversaturation of change means that impacted groups had little time to devote to a change effort and no direction on which efforts to prioritize first.

Recognizing that employees have a limit on the number of changes they can successfully process through is a key part to employing successful change management. Even when over saturation cannot be helped, being aware of it can help executives and the change managers prioritize changes for their impacted groups.


The quick checklist below will help you gauge the risks you may face related to the biggest obstacles to overall change success:

Are you:

  • Facing ineffective sponsorship from senior leaders?
  • Lacking sufficient resources and buy-in for change management?
  • Expecting resistance?
  • Working in a change-resistant culture?
  • At the point of change saturation?

Focusing attention on overcoming these obstacles proactively can help mitigate common risks and ultimately help you achieve better outcomes for your change and your organization. Speak with someone at Prosci to learn how you can begin to mitigate these change risks.

Want more change management best practices? Download the thought leadership article below:

Thought Leadership Article – Best Practices in Change Management

Written by
Robert Stise
Robert Stise

Robert uses his extensive educational background in social science research and writing to continually expand and deepen the body of knowledge dedicated to change management. In his role as Prosci Research Product Family Manager, Robert works to plan, run and produce meaningful advances in the field of change management.