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The 3 barriers to organisational change and how you can demolish them

Whether you’re a legacy business or a brand new start-up, change is inevitable. It’s an important element of scaling and optimising workflow and operations. But doing it properly, and making sure that it sticks can be a fine art.

According to McKinsey & Company, most organisational transformation projects fail to get off the ground – an alarming 70% in fact.

When you’ve put your blood, sweat, tears and money into such a project, it can be devastating when it falls flat. Not to mention that it could affect organisational performance well into the future when necessary changes haven’t been adopted. 

For successful organisational wide change and adoption, it is imperative that leaders understand the potential obstacles, and know how they may support their teams through the changes. 

Here are the three main barriers to organisational change and how you can manage it.


1. Employee fear and resistance to organisational change

It’s no secret that people find comfort in routine and can feel overwhelmed by the possibility of change, especially in times of rapid business growth or restructures. Resistance to change can be one of the biggest barriers to change that an organisation will experience.

Employees often don’t completely understand why things need to change, especially if they believe that things have been working fine the way that they have been. So why fix what’s not broken, right? Well, what they don’t understand is that there can be better ways to do things that lead to optimised results. Just because things aren’t broken doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved.

Employee resistance comes from a place of fear and apprehension, leading to more secretive behaviour, loss of trust, team silos and even pushback.


What you can do to overcome this:

Communication is key. If employees understand why organisational change needs to occur, how it will help them achieve better results or optimise their workflow, then they are less likely to resist organisational changes.

Approach queries and concerns with empathy and reassure employees that changes to processes, procedures and tools will not hinder the organisational culture, but strengthen it instead. If the entire business is working together more effectively, then the social climate will actually improve.

This responsibility doesn’t just sit on the shoulders of leaders, you need additional change advocates to help ease the apprehension and resistance to the organisational change afoot. By recruiting a team of change advocates, you can help to influence and empower the wider business and get them excited about the positive impact it will bring.


2. Unclear instructions

Successful organisational change requires clear and concise communication and instruction. If employees are willing to adopt change, but have been given unclear instructions on how to do it, then it is likely to end in confusion and pushback. 

Uncertainty caused by the instructions may be mistakenly associated with the complexity of the change itself. When in reality, the change may be quite simple. Providing instructions that are difficult to understand will set your organisational change project up to fail.


What you can do to overcome this:

To overcome this barrier to change, organisations must devise a comprehensive series of comms that relay the changes to come. This could be done using emails, in-person conversations or ideally, a combination of the two. The comms need to include why the change is necessary, what it will achieve, what the expectations of employees are, and the timelines for which it will be implemented. Everyone should receive the same information, so that they are aware and moving in the same direction as one united front.


3. Long-term operational habits

When employees have been operating in a certain way for quite some time, it can be difficult to break out of their old ways. So rather than active efforts to resist change, employees may simply follow a process that has become automatic for them over the years. The unconscious nature of a habit means that it can be difficult to break.

Many employees are engaged in the change process, but may not adapt to change as quickly as others. 


What you can do to overcome this:

When implementing any organisational change, leaders must support their employees through the change by providing comprehensive training. Leaders must be prepared to be available to answer any questions someone may have about the new processes, and provide additional training as needed. Leaders must show compassion and patience, as it can take more than one instructional session to fully grasp the changes at hand. 


The recipe for success

We all know that change can be scary. No one likes wading through uncharted waters, but by understanding the possible barriers to organisational change, you will be able to guide your organisation through a smooth transition.

If you demonstrate strong leadership, communicate effectively and transparently, build engagement, and focus on maintaining your organisational culture, everything should go off without a hitch. If you’re seeking some additional support with navigating your upcoming organisational change, get in touch with Performance By Design.