10 Predictable Barriers to Transformational Change Success

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 @ 08:24 AM

The terms "transformational change" and "transformation" may be two of the most over-used words in business today.  In our change management consulting work, we identify three different types of strategic change: Barriers to Transformational Change Success

  • Minor change creates minimal disruption (and therefore minimal resistance to change.)  Examples are routine changes to policies and procedures.
  • First order change creates significant disruption so there is consequently also major resistance to change.  An example is a new ERP system or the introduction of a portfolio management tool. 
  • Second order change is "transformational change" and is a complete alteration of the current operating structure, with massive change to processes, people, and typically, technology.  Since resistance is a function of the level of disruption the change creates, transformational change also brings with it significant resistance.  Examples are shared services solutions that break down organizational silos and drastically alter how the company operates.

Based on our change management consulting work, we can predict 10 common barriers to transformational change:

  1. Lack of clear scope/definition: An amazing number of organizations embark on the transformational change journey with no clear, consistent definition of where they are going. Leaders have multiple, often conflicting agendas.
  2. Too many other changes competing for resources: Senior executives routinely underestimate the level of resources needed for transformational change. "Implementation" is a ferocious, resource-consuming activity. Once the strategy is designed you are only 15% of the way to transformation! You still have 85% of the journey ahead.  The best advice: focus down to speed up.
  3. Poor implementation history: If your organization has a cemetery full of "dead and buried" projects you can expect that the memories of these linger on. You will likely face to resistance to your current transformational change based on the experience of what went wrong in the past.
  4. No sustained leadership support:  Sponsorship for the transformation will need to be sustained for at least 3 years.  It's easy to get distracted and to divert precious resources before the transformation is actually fully implemented.  You can also predict that over the course of this time that there will be major changes in leadership and you will need to begin from "square one" in securing Sponsorship from these new leaders.  Plan for that now!
  5. Major employee resistance:  Since resistance is a function of disruption we know that transformational change will result in major levels of resistance.  You need to have a plan for how that resistance will be sourced and managed.  Don't expect that you can communicate your way out of resistance.  If all you do is communicate you will likely just generate more resistance.
  6. Weak motivation:  The motivation to leave the current state must be greater than staying where you are. The only way to motivate people is to alter the reinforcements.  One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is to apply the same reinforcements (both formal and informal) while expecting transformational changes in behavior.
  7. Risk-averse cultures:  If your culture is one where turf-guarding is the political norm, you can anticipate that transformational change will fly in the face of your culture. Unless there are radically different reinforcements instituted for Sponsors (for example, reinforcement for mutual success rather than individual success) your transformation is at risk.
  8. Poor communications:  Pay attention to the psychological cues you are giving in your delivery methods.  If the standard operating method is email, for example, you will need to demonstrate that you are working toward radical change by your choice of media.  You won't get peoples' attention by just adding to the volume and communicating from the 50,000 foot corporate level.  Radical change, radical communication methods.
  9. Unclear and/or undisciplined governance structure:  How will the transformation be managed?  If you are creating "enterprise-wide" change you can't have multiple approaches with no oversight on how the entire program is being managed.  The governance structure should provide a clear line of sight from strategy to portfolio to programs, projects, and sub-projects.  If Sponsors don't have this line of sight then the transformational change portfolio will lack disciplined management.
  10. Use of multiple approaches reinforces the silo mentality:  How you implement is important!  In our change management consulting we tell clients that they must begin with the end in mind.  If you are trying to break down silos, it is totally paradoxical that you would implement in a silo'd manner.  

Are there other barriers to transformational change that you've experienced?  Share your comments below.

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Topics: Transformational Change, Barriers to Change