Leading organizations are starting to invest the time, energy and resources required to build organizational change management capabilities and competencies. Although this is a new endeavor for most, Prosci has been conducting research and development since 2005 to understand how these leading organizations approach enterprise change management (ECM), or said another way, deploy change management throughout the organization. During this research and while working with clients, we have witnessed three main failure modes that can plague efforts.

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're not treating enterprise change management as a project to be managed and a change to be managed. They're chipping away but have not turned the corner toward deploying change management organizationally.

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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.

Organizational change also requires 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 of people who work 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're 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.

The people side of the "applying change management" change itself will be as critical as any design decisions the team makes. 

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

Watch this full-length webinar on applying change management to change management

Failure Mode 2: Not defining the future state

A second major failure mode comes from trying to build the capability without ever defining the goal or what the end state will look like. In other words, failing to define the future state of enterprise change management.

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Although the future state of enterprise change management will look unique for your organization, you still must define what you're trying to achieve. The old saying, "if you don't 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 observe in the organization to know that you were institutionalizing change management and 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, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Some organizations are working to build change management capabilities, but they're 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:

ECM Strategy Map

  • Leadership
  • Project
  • Skill
  • Structure
  • Process



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

You should always be aware of your default view going into a change management deployment effort. What what do I mean by this? 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's nothing wrong with having a default perspective, but it's 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 viewpoints and perspectives

change management as an organizational capability

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. It isn't easy, but many organizations are beginning to differentiate through change management capabilities and competencies.

Treat ECM as a project and a change, define the future state, and use a multi-faceted approach. If, in your efforts to deploy change management across the organization, you take these steps, you will greatly increase your chances of success and truly change how your organization "does change."


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.