Leading organizations are starting to invest the time, energy and resources to build organizational change management capabilities and competencies. While this is certainly still a new endeavor for most, Prosci has been conducting research and development since 2005 to understand how these leading organizations are approaching Enterprise Change Management (ECM) - or said another way - deploying change management throughout the organization. During the course of conducting this research and working with clients, we have witnessed three main failure modes that have plagued these efforts.

Below are short descriptions of the three main failure modes and actions steps you can take to avoid:

  • Not treating ECM as a project and a change
  • Not defining the future state
  • Not using a multi-faceted approach

Failure Mode 1: Not treating ECM as a project and a change

While it may seem like common sense, many organizations that are making tremendous progress at applying change management on specific initiatives will never make a breakthrough because they are not treating Enterprise Change Management as a project to be managed and as a change to be managed. They are chipping away, but they have not turned the corner toward the organizational deployment of change management.

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Treating Enterprise Change Management as a project and a change means using the full complement of tools available to manage any project or initiative.

  • Does Enterprise Change Management have a charter?
  • Does it have objectives?
  • Is there a work breakdown structure?
  • Is there a project plan?
  • Is there a change management plan?

To truly build organizational change management capabilities, the initiative must be addressed and managed as an enterprise effort that requires the necessary design and planning.

A second facet here is assigning people to take on the effort. Is there a project leader? A project team? A project manager? The ECM team is not just anyone in the organization who will be doing change management; it is a dedicated and passionate group who works to understand the current state, design the future state and develop tactics for the transition. The team should have, or gain, knowledge on how changes happen and how change management can be made part of the standard operating procedures for the organization. Without a team dedicated to the effort, it will stall and get no traction.

Finally, when you ask individuals throughout the organization to begin applying change management, you are asking them to make a change. And, just like any other change to one's day-to-day work, change management is needed to ensure faster speed of adoption, higher ultimate utilization and greater proficiency.

  • Are you making a compelling case for why change management is necessary?
  • Are you clearly articulating what people need to be doing to support change management?
  • Are you providing the necessary skills, training and tools to those who will be managing change?

The people side of the change "applying change management" will be as critical as any design decisions the team makes (read a full tutorial about applying change management to change management).

Actions steps to avoid failure mode 1:

  • Dedicate a project team
  • Design a solution for deployment
  • Build a project plan
  • Build a change management plan

Failure Mode 2: Not defining the future state

A second major failure mode comes in the form of trying to build the capability without ever defining the goal or what the end state will look like - failing to define the future state of Enterprise Change Management.

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While the future state of Enterprise Change Management will look unique for your organization, you still must define what you are trying to achieve. The old saying that "if you do not know where you are going, any road will lead you there" certainly applies to organizations working to deploy change management without a defined future state.

If I were to walk through your organization in three years after you have spent the time and energy working to deploy change management, what would I see? What would I be able to observe in the organization to know that you were institutionalizing change management - making "effectively managing change" how your organization operates? The answers to these questions are at the heart of defining the future state of Enterprise Change Management.

Defining a future state requires the deliberate decision that we, as an organization, are taking on Enterprise Change Management. With the deliberate decision, you can start to articulate what the future state would be like and how you would know when you arrived.

Action steps for avoiding failure mode 2:

  • Ensure that a deliberate decision is made to pursue ECM
  • Define the future state
  • Know where you are going

Failure Mode 3: Not using a multi-faceted approach

The final failure mode can be best summarized by the old adage: "if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Some organizations are working to build change management capabilities; but they are not using the full set of tools available to them.

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One may have a robust and complete change management curriculum, but no method for attaching change management to projects or initiatives. Another may have a wonderfully integrated methodology incorporating project management and change management, but no offerings to help managers, supervisors and senior leaders build their own personal competencies. Still another might have a formal Change Management Office, but nothing else.

A successful Enterprise Change Management deployment approach is comprehensive in nature. It utilizes numerous tactics and approaches for making change management "business as usual" for the organization. Prosci's ECM Strategy Map identifies five main areas where actions are required to build change management capabilities:

  • Leadership
  • Project
  • Skill
  • Structure
  • Process

In the absence of a holistic approach, the likelihood of successful and lasting change is minimal.

You should always consider your "default" view going into a change management deployment effort. What is meant by a "default" view of change management? If you are a person in the training and development part of the organization, you might think about change management capability from a perspective of building skills and competencies throughout the organization. If you are the director of the Project Management Office, you would likely think of change management capability from a perspective of integration with project management and tactics for getting change management on to projects. If you are a senior leader you might be thinking about restructuring and creating a Change Management Office within your Organizational Effectiveness group. There is nothing wrong with having a default perspective, but it is important that you acknowledge yours and expand your planning beyond it.

Action steps for avoiding failure mode 3:

  • Understand your "default" view
  • Use all the tools you have available to make "change management" part of how the organization views change
  • Collaborate with others in the organization who bring different view points and perspectives


Becoming a flexible and durable organization - one where "effectively managing the people side of change" permeates how changes take place - is not an easy task. It takes time, energy and people. It requires a deliberate decision and the appropriate authority and sponsorship. While it is not easy, many organizations are beginning to differentiate themselves through their change management capabilities and competencies.

If, in your efforts to deploy change management across the organization, you can take these three steps, you will greatly increase the chances that you are successful and truly change how your organization "does change":

  • Treat ECM as a project and a change
  • Define the future state
  • Use a multi-faceted approach


Enterprise Change Management Boot Camp

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.