5 executive pitfalls that ruin organizational change management efforts

WalkMe Team
By WalkMe Team
Updated May 2, 2023

Your human brain could be obsolete within the next three decades.

That’s right. According to Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, we can expect to see robots taking on the current role of CEO by 2047.

As technology permeates every aspect of modern-day business, we find ourselves in a period of unprecedented change.

It’s no longer enough to improve companies on a small-scale. In the race to remain relevant and competitive, transformational change has become a non-negotiable asset.

Leading the pack in the innovation age demands good organizational change management.  

So forget the future. Right now the CEO’s role is more important than ever.

5 leadership mistakes that damage organizational change management

Whatever your change initiative, make sure you don’t commit these common leadership mistakes.

5 Leadership Mistakes of Change Management

1. Lack of vision, clarity & communication

John Hillen writes in Washington Technology that “CEO” actually stands for Chief Explaining Officer.

But far too many CEOs fail to get clarity around the vision for change. Without clarity, leaders will struggle to communicate the company’s new mission in a way that will inspire employees to get behind it.

Above all, the vision needs to be authentic and woven into the DNA of your company.

No matter how well you follow John Kotter’s 8-step process, or any other change management model, “if the change is not built on the unique strengths and values of the organization…it won’t stick,” says Hillen.

It’s important that communication with your team remains consistent and constant.

In “Leading change: An interview with the CEO of P&G,” P&G CEO Alan Lafley says for CEOs, reinforcement is key:

Change Management

“Excruciating repetition and clarity are important—employees have so many things going on in the operation of their daily business that they don’t always take the time to stop, think, and internalize.”

2. Being a poor role model

Too many CEOs make the mistake of thinking organizational change management is not part of their job description.

As a company undergoes transformation, an agile leader must support new ideas into action. Who will adopt change if you fail to rally your team?

A gap between intent and the steps taken to realize your transformation won’t motivate change. By not getting personally involved, CEOs send a message to employees that the change is not worth their time.

Instead, choose to be the ultimate role model — be the first to trailblaze the company’s desired mindset and behavior. This sends a strong signal to your team to follow where you lead the transformation journey.

3. Failing to highlight success

There’s nothing more powerful for morale and motivation than success. But celebrating and sharing success stories is rarely prioritized by CEOs.

Change Management Success

When employees listen to tales of success, they see what a good transformation can achieve — and gain confidence in your company’s new mission.

Studies show positive reinforcement generates powerful effects.

For instance, McKinsey cites 1982 University of Wisconsin behavioral research with bowling teams. This study demonstrates that emphasizing the positive can be twice as effective as highlighting mistakes.

Humans are driven by ambition and passion to succeed.

When you celebrate what your employees are doing well — and dive into how to leverage those successes — you’ll drum up desire to keep excelling.

4. Not building a strong top team

The executive suite has changed considerably over the past two decades. Today’s C-suite continues to evolve to match the pace of a changing business landscape.

Transformational Change

You have a team of executives around you to help steer the transformation ship. Use them.

It’s up to you to make sure that team is made up of the right people. Surround yourself with leaders who are as willing to invest in change as you are.

It’s crucial. You must evaluate your top team in the context of organizational change management. These are the co-pilots you’ve chosen to help get your company’s transformation off the ground.

Are these leaders resourceful enough, motivated, and prepared to implement organizational change?

Ask the tough questions — and make choices accordingly.

5. Not accounting for challenges associated with digital change

Digital change in particular is fraught with frustration and stress. Employees must learn to perform tasks in a different way — while utilizing foreign, complex technology.

Despite the rapid pace at which the digital world moves, technology changes still take time — especially when it comes to humans adopting those changes. It’s important to recognize these challenges and provide the resources needed to manage changes effectively.

Without digital adoption — where digital tools become second nature to users — your company won’t gain the true advantages of new technology.

To leverage software in your transformation journey, digital adoption empowers you to use technology as intended — and to its fullest extent. This will support employees to learn new processes without slowing down or feeling incompetent.

On the road to company-wide transformation, your role in organizational change management is pivotal and multi-faceted. You’re oiling the wheels of change so they can move forward.

You must:

  1. Communicate the need for change.
  2. Set the tone and adopt the desired changes.
  3. Build a strong top team.
  4. Prepare and support your company to tackle digital challenges.

Now, let’s see a robot try all that.

The role of the CEO in organizational change management

Organizational change management won’t function well in isolation. If an organization is to change, everyone within it must participate.

In fact, not only should the CEO buy-in to new changes, a visionary CEO must drive organizational transformation forward.

Role of the CEO

According to McKinsey, the exact nature of the CEO’s role will be influenced by:

  • the magnitude, urgency, and nature of the transformation;
  • the capabilities and failings of the organization;
  • the personal style of the leader.

This is why it’s imperative for you to be heavily involved in the organizational change management process.

David Rooke and Bill Torbert say:

“…we have found that a leader’s support for and legitimization of change efforts are crucial in sustaining company-wide transformational processes until results persuade an increasing proportion of the workforce to commit more fully to the new order.

This is especially true when the efforts involve new practices that aren’t widely understood or used…”

When the change is monumental, the entire organization and its stakeholders will look to you for leadership, assurance, and inspiration.

It’s your responsibility to communicate a clear, strategic vision and build support for the turnaround strategy.

When these things are missing from your organizational change management plan, well-intended efforts quickly devolve into chaos.


WalkMe’s Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) transforms the user experience in today’s overwhelming digital world. Using artificial intelligence, engagement, guidance, and automation, WalkMe’s transparent overlay assists users to complete tasks easily within any enterprise software, mobile application or website. Discover how a DAP can revolutionize your business — request a demo today.

WalkMe Team
By WalkMe Team
WalkMe pioneered the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) for organizations to utilize the full potential of their digital assets. Using artificial intelligence, machine learning and contextual guidance, WalkMe adds a dynamic user interface layer to raise the digital literacy of all users.