Humans are hard-wired to resist change that we don’t like or fear. Our brain interprets that sort of unwelcome change as a threat and readies us for “fight or flight.”
Given that, it’s easy to see why companies find implementing change management initiatives so challenging. When evolution is desperately needed, employees dig in their heels and cling to inefficient systems and outdated technology.
This weakens the company’s competitive edge, slows its go-to-market opportunities, and wreaks havoc internally. The end result is that these organizations remain stagnant, fueled by a lack of internal alignment and frustration among employees who are not empowered to make decisions.
Common Barriers to Organizational Change Management
How can organizations facing a difficult business environment respond swiftly to implement change and come out on top? What are the key ingredients for a successful change effort? How can a company avoid failure in the change process?
An effective change management strategy requires overcoming barriers to change at all levels of the organization. Restructuring fast requires a management process focused on more than new technology.
Effective organizational change requires new systems that push decision-making down to the lowest levels.
Here are 6 common barriers to organizational change and advice for overcoming them.
1. End Old School Organizational Culture
Martin Danoesas, a partner of the BCG financial institutions practice, explains in a TED Talk how change is needed in today’s workplace. Old-school organizational culture meant “thinkers” were at the top of the org chart, and “doers” at the bottom. That human resources model doesn’t hold up in the era of technological adoption and disruption.
Transformational change requires that teams be fast, flexible, and autonomous, Danoesas says. Rather than having leaders acting as micro-managers barking orders on how and when to do something, effective organizational change requires buy-in from all of the stakeholders and team members.
Top management needs to empower their frontline workers. Lower-level employees and mid-level managers need to trust senior management to make great business decisions, by focusing on alignment and championing autonomy.
2. Determine What You’re Willing to Give Up
Change implementation starts with a change in behavior. As Danoesas describes: “Change is not only about embracing the new. It’s about giving up some of the old as well.”
Danoesas gives the example of working with a bank that wanted to become simpler, more intuitive, and more relevant. The problem was the culture of the bank. It was common for employees to attend multiple meetings with 20+ people. They would talk about things that needed to get done, then pass the work off from department to department.
Danoesas says: “Great Ideas? They end up in PowerPoint parking lots.”
So he challenges us with: What are you willing to give up to overcome change resistance?
3. Identify Change Agents
Sometimes overcoming employee resistance requires looking outside your organization.
Case in point: One day at InterimExecs, we got a call from the CEO of a fast-growing tech company. The firm had quickly grown from 20 people in engineering to more than 60.
The fast growth led to disconnects between product and engineering departments. Managers were hesitant to make big changes. This resulted in an ongoing purgatory of a status quo that just wasn’t working. The CEO knew it was time to shake up the organization and bring in a change leader adept at project management.
Our Interim CTO immediately began implementing change initiatives centered on an agile methodology and autonomy between product and engineering departments.
4. Align the Organizational Structure
Danoesas makes the case that departmental alignment enables autonomy, and autonomy makes the entire organization fast and flexible.
“Leaders have to make sure that everyone in the organization is aligned around the overall purpose — the why — and the overall priorities — the what,” he says. “But then they have to let go and trust their teams to make the right decisions on how to get there.”
5. Focus on Employee Engagement
Tony Evans, an expert Interim CEO based out of the United Kingdom, shared his experience taking a capital equipment manufacturer of food production kits through a transformation. The company’s goal was to create new processes that would allow it to move from simple volume depositors to bespoke food production lines manufacturing specialty items such as chocolate eclairs or sandwich cookies.
The problem was that the same pool of employees was used for every single type of project; the company would be restricted in achieving profitability on variations of the product.
Evans’ successful change management approach required splitting the operations into three units. Each team was responsible for decision-making, planning, and scheduling their own work, yet were closely linked to finance, sales, and customer service.
Thanks to greater employee involvement, customer responsiveness, project completion times, cost of production, engineering, installation, and accuracy of project profitability vastly improved.
6. Sometimes Outsourcing is Necessary
“Interim executives are the catalysts necessary for transformation,” Evans says. “They have spent many years developing their skills bank and provide the environment for cultural change necessary to allow organizational agility to be matched to 21st-century market needs.”
Evans says a big element of this is establishing ways of working that build delegated authority as the norm.
Like most interim executives, Evans enters an organization with the goal of taking a company through change and transformation.
The ultimate goal is to get an organization to higher ground, where an interim executive then hands off the keys to internal leaders who have been nurtured and coached by the interim, or to a new executive who comes in on a permanent basis.
“When the interim leaves, the river of skills they have built within the business closes behind them and it continues on its journey, unencumbered,” Evans says.