5 Key Barriers to Organisational Change

Organisational change is often forced by a variety of internal and external factors. A new management team within the organisation or new legislation are just two of the examples that may lead to an organisational change.

Changes are often incremental (transactional), enabling organisations to adapt or modify over time and react to different situations as they arise. Increasingly, changes are becoming more radical (transformational), aimed at fundamentally alter the present situation, often in order for an organisation to become more competitive.

The fact is, change happens. Actually, there is a wide-shared view that ‘The only thing that is constant is change’ (Heraclitus). However, there are barriers to organisational change; barriers that some organisations are aware of and try to overcome; barriers some organisations turn a blind eye to, and barriers some organisations do not even know exist. The key to true organisational change (that which gives a desired result) is to recognise these barriers so that they could be overcome.

Here are five key barriers to organisational change:

  1. Resistance to change

Resistance to change at individual level is very common. It is considered to be a primary reason for change initiatives to fail. Resistance to change may be influenced by a variety of factors: emotional, psychological, incompetence, lack of trust, past failure experiences and other.

It is a personal barrier that many people have. Whether it is changing to a new brand of coffee or starting to use a new project management software, adversity to change exists.

Trouble is, this is not just an issue with lower level employees – it exists in management too. So, it can go right to the top and that makes it all the more essential to overcome.

The Kubler Ross Change Curve is widely used in business to understand the stages of personal transition and adjustment to organisational change. It is vital to help people to transition to stage 3 of the curve to avoid the failure of change initiatives.

Resistance to change can also be at organisational level. Organisational design, organisational culture and resource limitations are all the examples of organisational level resistance to change. These need to be assessed as potential barriers to change prior to every change initiative and if they pose a risk – they need to be addressed accordingly.

  1. Ineffective goal setting

The lack of an in-depth change assessment, strategy and comprehensive plan for change initiatives are all indicators of an ineffective goal setting. Goal setting is vital for the success of change initiatives. Therefore, it is important to commit the time and effort required for effective goal setting.

It is essential that goals are set taking into account the organisation’s sensitivity to change, key stakeholders, market conditions, personnel and management perceptions, the overall goals of the organisation, as well as the impact goals may have on these factors. Goals also need to be ‘SMART’: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant and Time-based. Lastly, goal setting needs to be flexible in responding to change, e. g. a change in management style may be required or a change to the project plan in order to accommodate for change adoption.

  1. Ineffective communication

Lack of or ineffective communication in an organisation is another common cause for change initiatives to fail as clear messaging is vital yet not always provided. Effective communication is required to inform stakeholders of the need for changes, anticipated benefits, change in goals, individual tasks and responsibilities.

The individual or team leading the change need to possess good interpersonal skills, be enthusiastic and be able to stimulate motivation and commitment in stakeholders. Getting the stakeholder buy-in to the change is likened to already winning half of the battle!

  1. Ineffective negotiation

Beyond communication, the individual or team leading the change need to possess good negotiation skills. This includes selling plans and ideas to others by creating a challenging and desirable vision of the future. Also, negotiation is required with key stakeholders for resources and changes in policy and procedures.

Lastly, conflict resolution is an important aspect of negotiation skills. Negotiations with stakeholders or resistance to change by individuals may lead to conflicts and it is vital to deal with those skilfully.

  1. Ineffective role specification

Poorly or unestablished or ineffective teams, working groups and responsibility assignment matrix (RACI) are all examples of ineffective role specifications. Change Manager or individual leading the change needs to be able to build effective teams, establish effective working groups and be able to define and delegate respective responsibilities. These provide structure to stakeholders and understanding of what their role in the change is.

The Change Manager or individual leading the change also needs to put controls in place for stakeholders to be able to identify / confirm that what they are doing is the right thing. This will help to improve the quality, as well as the personnel motivation levels.

All of the above barriers can be overcome and the primary secret to success is the competence and expertise of staff leading the change initiatives, such as change managers, change leaders and others involved in leading changes. Staff who are skilled in managing change initiatives are much more likely to execute change management effectively and achieve the desired results.

If you are a Change Manager or a professional involved in the delivery of change initiatives, take the opportunity to advance your change management skills by undertaking some professional development and getting certified in this profession. The best starting point to learn about the change management or brush up your skills is the APMG International Change Management™ Foundation certification. The e-learning format and online proctored exam will allow you to study at your preferred times and locations, enabling you to fit your professional development and growth around your busy lifestyle.

Daunton, L. 2014. Understanding and managing organisational change. Organisational Behaviour lecture handouts (session 6): Cardiff University

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