Top Nine Barriers to Organizational Change

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Updated: May 2nd, 2022

For any organization, change is inevitable. Managers and employers at all levels admit that change management is one challenge that big and small companies face alike. The pandemic is one of the most recent examples of how change affects organizations and how ready the workforce needs to be to combat it. 

So what’s the good news? Well, managing change can be easier than you think. Whether it’s a startup or an organization that has been around for a while, leaders can maximize success while implementing new strategies. It all boils down to adopting and implementing it quickly. Below, we’ll look at some of the most common barriers to organizational change and how to overcome them. 

Poor change management comes at a cost

According to surveys of global senior executives, the success rate of change initiatives in organizations is as low as 54 percent. And research from McKinsey and Company reflects that 70% of all transformations fail. 

The majority of the time, companies have to bear the costs associated with poor change-management skills. Some of these could be:

  • Incurring huge financial losses
  • A decline in the market share
  • Poor productivity and output
  • Low workplace morale amongst employees

The 9 crucial barriers to organizational change

1. Underestimating the complexity of the change process

Complex problems can present unexpected challenges and obstacles. At times, we may be unable to deal with such situations either because we have no previous experience dealing with them or do not have the right guidance or approach to tackle them. Change management means expecting the unexpected and being able to correct course if the process goes off the rails.

2. Lack of change management knowledge skills

Every change management strategy emphasizes the importance of planning and communication. Leaders must involve people from all levels of the organization and keep them on board with new ideas and processes. Short-term achievable goals should be a part of the change process to encourage employee engagement.

3. Lack of accountability

Employees, including managers and front-line workers, should be encouraged to participate in the change process. This will make them feel accountable for the outcome and instill a sense of responsibility and importance. 

To encourage participation, senior leaders can hold frequent information sessions, ask for suggestions and feedback, and conduct anonymous surveys, town halls, and upper- and mid-level managers ensure an open-door office policy.

4. Insufficient resources and tight timelines

Middle managers play a crucial role in the overall success of any change initiative. That’s because they deal directly with lower-level employees and front-line workers. However, it is natural for employees to pick up on a manager’s doubt or resentment about the process. 

To overcome this, leaders need to ensure all management staff have suitable time frames and the resources they need to face the challenges they have at hand.

5. Inappropriate organization structure

There must be a structure that allows workers at every level in the organizational hierarchy to be heard — including management, team leads and front-line workers. This structure can take the form of a representative group from each level that works with executives and senior leaders in decision-making and planning of the change process.

6. Assuming change will come easy

It’s important to realize that many factors will stand in the way of change, and dealing with them will be anything but easy.  

Executives and senior leaders often underestimate the impact organizational changes will have on their subordinates and colleagues. Oftentimes, there is very little or almost no planning for allocating new resources or the implications of a resistant corporate culture. 

7. Lack of support from senior management

Sometimes senior managers can feel threatened by organizational change. They want to protect their own positions and are reluctant to support mid-level managers or listen to those above them. The flow of communication is blocked as workers are not given clear instructions and have nowhere to express concerns or give feedback.

8. Poor cross-functional teamwork

The negative impact of “siloing” is well-documented. Particularly in times of organizational change, inter-departmental cooperation needs to be encouraged. 

Senior leaders can create teams with members drawn from different departments and include team leaders and managers in discussion about overall alignment in corporate goals. To develop cross-functional leadership skills, explore The New Managers Course.

9. Minimal or zero follow ups

Continuous reinforcement of the change achievement is necessary. For this, all workers should be notified of new outcomes along with metrics and data that reflect performance. 

Hold team meetings with stakeholders to provide updates and give credit to those who participated efficiently in the change process.

Take charge and overcome barriers to change management at Schulich ExecEd

Identifying the top nine barriers to organizational change is only the first step to creating a smoother work process and a healthy work culture for everyone. The next step is to overcome them in a way that works best for everyone in the team. 

We offer a Master Certificate in Organizational Development and Change program to help managers and leaders lead and support change at any level of an organization. This material is adapted from the Center for Strategic Management. 

Schulich ExecEd provides academic advising to help you identify resources and support for your program. To learn more about course information and program requirements, contact an advisor today

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