How to Leverage Change Friction to Change Behaviors at Work

How to Leverage Change Friction to Change Behaviors at Work
Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

Do You Leverage Change Friction to Change Behaviors at Work?
Experienced leaders know that organizational change is a constant and vital force that either propels strategies and people forward or stops them in their tracks. Change management consulting experts know that orchestrating successful organizational change often resembles navigating turbulent waters; it requires adept navigation and strategic foresight. Enter the concept of how to leverage change friction to change behaviors at work — a notion rooted in behavioral economics and organizational psychology.

When harnessed effectively, the ability to leverage change friction to change behaviors at work can serve as a catalyst for promoting and sustaining successful organizational change.

What Is Change Friction?
In behavioral economics, change friction refers to factors or obstacles that increases the effort or time required for individuals to make a decision or complete a task.  We think of change friction as the normal and expected resistance from those affected by change when attempting to alter the status quo within an organization. We know from change management simulation data that change resistance manifests in various forms, ranging from entrenched habits and routines to cultural inertia and structural barriers.

Friction makes a behavior less likely and impacts our decisions.  For example, distance can be a friction which impacts behavior.  When things are farther away from us (e.g., a gym, an unhealthy food, etc.) , we a less likely to act upon them.  Other examples of friction are time and effort.  The more time things take to do, or the harder they are to accomplish, the less likely people are to do them.

How to Leverage Change Friction to Change Behaviors at Work
Rather than viewing change friction as an impediment, it can be reframed as a potent lever for instigating and sustaining organizational change.  If you understand why individuals and organizations tend to maintain their current state of affairs, even in the face of compelling reasons to change, then you can recognize and address the sources of cultural inertia that stand in the way of change.

  1. Understand Change Readiness
    By pinpointing areas of resistance and understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms at play, change leaders and change catalysts can strategically deploy interventions to disrupt entrenched patterns and facilitate the adoption of new behaviors and practices.

    Have you assessed the current level of change readiness?

  2. Create Behavioral Nudges
    Drawing from the principles of choice architecture, leaders can employ subtle yet impactful nudges to steer individuals and teams toward desired outcomes. By carefully designing the organizational environment and framing choices in a manner that promotes desired behaviors, leaders can mitigate resistance and create a conducive context for change. Examples include altering default options, providing timely feedback, and fostering team norms conducive to change.

    Are you using behavioral nudges to serve as gentle yet effective catalysts for organizational transformation?

  3. Design Adaptive Organizational Structures and Practices
    We know from organizational alignment research that culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations. New strategies and changes must go through your culture and your people to be successfully implemented.  Harnessing change friction involves recognizing and addressing the sources of cultural inertia within an organization.

    Organizational structures and business practices often function as either cultural enablers or inhibitors of change. Recognizing this, leaders can leverage change friction by restructuring teams to incentivize and support desired behaviors. They can introduce agile methodologies, flatten hierarchies, and foster cross-functional collaboration to break down silos.

    They can also model and reward a culture of experimentation and learning to increase change resilience and agility.

    Is the way work gets done helping or hindering your desired changes?

The Bottom Line
Properly understanding and leveraging change friction can transform change resistance into change momentum.  If you want to shift inertia into agility and uncertainty into opportunity, deploy strategic interventions informed by behavioral economics that embrace change friction as a catalyst for growth and innovation — not as a barrier.

To learn more about how to leverage change friction to change behaviors at work, download 5 Science-Backed Lenses of Successful Change Leadership

Evaluate your Performance


Get key strategy, culture, and talent tools from industry experts that work


Health Checks

Assess how you stack up against leading organizations in areas matter most



Download published articles from experts to stay ahead of the competition



Review proven research-backed approaches to get aligned



Stay up to do date on the latest best practices that drive higher performance


Client Case Studies

Explore real world results for clients like you striving to create higher performance