How Leaders Can Remove Barriers to Organizational Change

How Leaders Can Remove Barriers to Organizational Change
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The Challenge: How to Remove Barriers to Organizational Change
Change management consultants have long sought to remove barriers to organizational change.

With change a constant for most companies, flexible and agile organizations that can adapt to new challenges and new constraints will succeed in the long term.  Until the most common roadblocks to change are fully understood, change will continue to be a struggle for most organizations.

The Value of Removing Obstacles to Organizational Change
Data from our change management simulation tells us that it is certainly in an organization’s best interests to smooth the path of change.  Employees who do not encounter barriers during change report being:

  • Three times more likely to be productively engaged in their work
  • Four times more likely to be loyal to their company
  • Half as likely to leave

What Change Research Says About Barriers to Organizational Change
Why are so many companies and employees stymied by change in the workplace? In most studies, researchers observe three major barriers to effecting change based on three different employee beliefs.

  1. Lack of Power
    One common barrier to organizational change is the concept that, because of a lack of urgency, accountability, support, autonomy, time, or resources, employees are not given the power to behave a certain way. In some organizations the lack of power presents itself as a victim mentality; in other companies leaders are not truly aligned with the espoused changes.

    Regardless of the root cause, the more that employees feel actively involved in and empowered to make changes in a way that makes sense, the better your chances for lasting change.

  2. Lack of Ability
    Another barrier to organizational change is the belief that people affected by change are unable to act a certain way because they lack the knowledge or skills to “do it the new way.” If employees are willing to change but lack the specific skills or knowledge, you need to provide more support and more direction.

    When people are not confident in their abilities to change, focus on providing targeted training, practice, coaching, and feedback.

  3. Lack of Desire
    A third common barrier to change are employees who, even though they possess the competence to change, are unwilling to engage in a certain behavior because they have too little motivation or incentive to do so.

    When employees are not fully committed to change, leaders should focus on understanding how to best reward and recognize the desired behaviors. In general, you want to reward and provide positive feedback for the behaviors and performance that you want and have negative feedback and consequences for undesired behaviors and performance.

    To be effective, rewards and consequences for change must be perceived as meaningful, timely, fair, proportionate, consistent, expected, and aligned with the changes you seek.

The Bottom Line
If your change initiative is struggling, invest the time to identify your change roadblocks and actively involve those most affected by the changes to design a practical plan to turn the tide.  Then consistently monitor progress, communicate results, and hold people accountable to the new way.  Change is rarely easy, but it can be done.

To learn about how to remove barriers to organizational change, download 5 Science-Backed Lenses of Change Leadership

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