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How to Spot Pink Flags Before They Derail Your Next Change Initiative 

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Every leader knows that changing or transforming an organization is a difficult journey. Whether they’re implementing a new talent strategy, operationalizing ESG, transforming the culture, or anything in between, there are a multitude of complexities and people factors that can stand in the way of success.   

Even when the right environment to enable change is in place, the best efforts can still fall short – with only 34% of change initiatives showing a clear success.

But there are warning signs, or what we call “pink flags,” that can serve as a guide for when to course-correct during the change journey.  

What exactly is a pink flag?  

A pink flag doesn’t indicate an insurmountable obstacle or a reason to give up on change. Instead, it serves as a signal that you might need to pivot or have a candid conversation about what’s not working and how it might impact the long-term trajectory and business objectives.  

In short, they are potential roadblocks you want to clear out of the way before you start making important decisions, and then continue to monitor throughout the journey. If pink flags aren’t addressed, leaders might find themselves going back to the starting line, dragging out the work far longer than it needs to take, or even ditching the project completely.  

To avoid this happening to your next change or transformation, here are the 5 pink flags to watch out for:  

1. Lack of a clear vision

First and foremost, when advocating for change, it’s essential to have a clear vision and path forward, and to bring key stakeholders along on that journey. If a vision is lacking, getting alignment on the end state will be nearly impossible. It’s critical to identify who needs to weigh in on the vision, co-create with them, and get buy-in on what will be done to execute against it. Without this, you risk changing direction too many times and stalling the initiative. If you sense a lack of alignment on the vision or path forward, having those direct conversations upfront will always save time and work for everyone in the long-run, and lead to a stronger outcome. 

2. An overly democratic culture 

While healthy organizations ensure everyone is given a voice, being too consensus driven can lead to stagnation and group-think, resulting in a stalled or watered down solution. It’s important that change leaders work closely enough with their teams to know how to advocate for them, but not so close that they aren’t confident making decisions without them. Afterall, there are many ways to represent the wants and needs of each group without having every individual participate in weekly calls or weigh in on every decision. Defining clear owners and decision makers is critical to a project’s success. 

3. Accountability in the C-Suite is lacking 

While getting leadership sign-off is necessary before implementing change, it isn’t always enough. Without a committed project sponsor at the executive level who is actively invested in the work and accessible for input, obtaining the key insights you need from the top will be nearly impossible. If the C-Suite is avoiding ownership, make it clear that the expectation isn’t that they are involved in every meeting and decision, but rather advocating for the work and helping to get input (when needed) from their peers. 

4. Discovery is dismissed 

Before change can be enacted, there needs to be a collective understanding of the current landscape and an alignment on future goals. This is where discovery comes in – a phase during which insights are gathered from across the organization to do just that. While some may see this phase as unnecessary or be tempted to jump straight into solutioning, it serves as the bedrock for the rest of the project. Advocating for its inclusion and pushing back when people want to write off the discovery phase is critical for meaningful, human-centered and impactful work.  

5. Too much ‘Telephone’ 

When it comes to distributing crucial information – whether about milestones reached or next steps – there needs to be clear communication channels in place. Relying on word of mouth or assuming that someone was given the right information is only going to further exacerbate misalignment and undermine confidence in the project. 

The result? Spinning wheels. 

If these pink flags begin popping up, it’s likely that you’ll have to start, stop, and pivot – only to have to start again. We call this the “spinning wheel” effect. And the more pink flags you see, the more you’ll spin. But if you address them early on and continue to look out for them, you can significantly cut down on the amount of time, effort, and resources it takes to achieve your desired end-state. Doing change right requires the right people involved, the right ways of working, and the right process, to set a strong foundation for lasting change.  

Tiana Ritchell is an Associate Principal at Daggerwing Group. Her past experience in Human Resources and Organizational Development gives her unique insight into the human element of strategic communications and change management. She is passionate about helping companies drive cultural transformation in a way that delivers results, while speaking to employees and meeting them where they are. Outside of work, Tiana enjoys cooking for family and friends – especially traditional Italian dishes!
Imogen Yates is a Managing Consultant at Daggerwing Group in New York. She is passionate about bringing employees onboard to drive successful organizational change and using practical and human-centered strategies to do so. Outside of work, Imogen finds her zen doing pilates and eating pizza. She also follows a lot of animals on Instagram, including an alpaca.
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