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The Risks of Implementing Major Business Change & How to Assess Them


It is hard to view a major business change program in its entirety without identifying potential risks to its success, which is undoubtedly a must. After all, if we do not appreciate what could go wrong, we may run headlong into trouble and be caught blindsided with no backup plan. Understanding the risks is also a way to identify issues in the process and enable appropriate early intervention.

As part of the initial risk assessment, change management experts seek to identify barriers to success. However, in doing so, they will also determine what is needed to succeed. Initial risk assessments should encompass direct contact with business and project leaders to assess the aspects they feel are weak or need improvement to make implementation successful.

It’s not only the issue with the original change plan that matters

Risks during a major business change program cover two elements:

  • Quality of the solution. After all, there is no point in continuing with change that brings no benefit from its implementation.
  • Quality of adoption or acceptance of the solution. Again, there is no benefit to committing to change solution programs if support is not there.

Lack of compliance and resistance are some of the key reasons for change program failure. Project risks impact the processes and technological implementation. However, navigating the human element of change is equally likely to hinder results. Employee risks may also come from those leading the solution as well as those affected.

Continuously taking a negative approach to identify risks can be damaging, so changing to a positive outlook approach as more constructive.

Identify the positives to banish negatives

Illustrate and communicate the big picture and identify factors critical for success. Use positive language to highlight strategies that will reduce the barriers rather than focus on the obstacles themselves. People may not be resistant to a change, but their reluctance comes from simply being afraid to give up what they know. They have a vested interest in the process as it is now, so even when they realise a change may be better, they can be fearful of its impact while they adapt.

Negative feedback delivered about a process to a group may be seen as a direct slur on individual performance, potentially creating resistance or a loss of motivation. Of course, the requirement for change will be deeper rooted to progress to a new desired business model, so highlight positives instead. Show the success factors and how employees and leaders can contribute to the process. Removing attention from the negative to highlight positives will add credibility to the change management story.

There are many surprising reasons people resist change. It is essential to understand why people are or appear to be reluctant. As mentioned above, the human element of the change process can derail even the most structurally sound project and change management plans.

In highlighting the success factors, you will naturally define a set of measurable goals, goals that you can evaluate and celebrate when they are achieved. Managing missing success factors will identify weak areas without the negativity attributed to risk identification.

Success factors

What is needed to reach successful implementation? The success factors will tell you what is required to see acceptance and adoption of change. You may be tempted to point out the areas you see will trigger failure. However, conveying what is needed to fix these risk factors, rather than the risk themselves, will evoke a more positive response. The success factors and how they are conveyed will enable us to elicit required buy-in critical to ensure adoption remains successful.

  • Build a strong case for change – The story must make sense to all. It is as much about the way the message is delivered as the message itself. Convey clear reasons and purpose for the change and offer the information in multiple formats, both visually and orally, to give people various ways to learn, assess and understand. Time is also essential. The Kubler Ross change curve shows that people typically follow through predictable patterns when change occurs. Change management training can provide individuals with the necessary skills required to successfully navigate the human element of change.
  • Acknowledge history – Change fatigue is another high contributor to project failure, so identify and analyse past projects to learn how to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
  • Definable desires – be clear about the what, why who and how. Ensure the processes, people, and structure are understood by all those affected.
  • Recognise organisational culture – Changing cultures takes time, so continually assess your organisation’s readiness for change. An ethos of change acceptance cultivated always will make the transition phases smoother.
  • Identify and mitigate transition dip – Change is disruptive, so having a plan to manage reduced production, provide time and resources for training or reallocation of staff and equipment to minimise disruption to output and productivity is essential. Supporting those facing increased pressure or extra workloads due to the change will help with the transition.
  • Effective Leaders and change managers – Accountability and measurability measures are in place to ensure effectiveness at all levels for those charged with leading or implementing the change.
  • Communication and resources – Both need to be in place and effective. Solution teams need to be capable. Sufficient resources must address the human element of change as it is as essential as project plan management.

Continuous Assessment

We have stated how the initial assessment positively identifies risks to focus on success strategies. However, that is most certainly not the end of the road. The process must evolve with the project. Change must be viewed fluidly to reach a successful conclusion of full integration. You will never be able to fully pre-mandate a change process. After all, you can never altogether remove the unpredictable human element or remove outside risks and barriers beyond your control, but there is a lot you can do to help.

What you must do is continually reassess, anticipate, and mitigate potential barriers. Be honest with stakeholders and participates. They do not always expect you to have answers but will expect openness and honesty that encourages and invites constructive feedback and strengthens the process as it progresses.

Published: October 27, 2021

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Michelle Symonds

Michelle Symonds spent many years in the oil industry and investment banking, designing and building software applications and websites, then later managing complex global IT projects. In 2009 she started a consultancy specialising in SEO to use her tech skills in the rapidly growing field of digital marketing, and so Ditto Digital was born. Ditto Digital devises and implements SEO campaigns based on in-depth data analysis and are very pro-active and flexible to adapt to changing requirements or external influences. Their top-level digital marketing services have enabled small companies to successfully compete with major brands in the online space. Find out more at DittoDigital or connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.

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