Top Nine Barriers to Organizational Change

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According to surveys of global senior executives, the success rate of change initiatives in organizations has been reported to be as low as 54 per cent. The cost associated with poor change-management skills is significant — financial losses, a decline in market share, poor productivity and low workplace morale. So, what is holding companies back when it comes to instigating change? Here is a list of the top nine reasons why their efforts fail.

1. Underestimating the complexity of the change process

Complex problems can present unexpected challenges and obstacles arise that we have no previous experience dealing with. 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 what is happening. 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, need to feel they are playing a role in the change process in order to feel accountable for the outcome. This can mean senior leaders holding frequent information sessions, asking for suggestions and feedback, conducting anonymous surveys, town halls, and upper- and mid-level managers ensuring an open door office policy.

4. Management resistance/time pressure

Because they deal directly with lower-level employees and front-line workers, middle managers are crucial to the overall success of any change initiative. Employees will pick up on a manager’s doubt or resentment about the process. Leaders need to ensure all management staff have suitable time-frames and the resources they need to face the challenges in front of them.

5. Change structures

There must be a structure in place to allow 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 it will be easy

Executives and senior leaders often underestimate the impact that organizational changes will have on lower level workers. They don’t plan for allocating new resources or the implications of a resistant corporate culture. Many factors will stand in the way of change and can’t be ignored.

7. Lack of senior management modelling

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.

9. No follow up

Continuous reinforcement of the change achievement is necessary. Workers should be notified of new outcomes with emails that include metrics. Hold team meetings with stakeholders to provide updates and give credit to those who participated well in the change process.

This material has been adapted from the Centre for Strategic Management, and is drawn in part from SEEC’s upcoming Masters Certificate in Organizational Development and Change program (starting April 15, 2019). The program is designed to help managers and leaders lead and support change at any level of an organization.

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