The Top 6 Barriers to Change and What Change Agents Can Do About Them

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 @ 10:53 AM

If there is one thing we know for sure, it is today’s organizations are busy! Busy making changes that is. From Mergers and Acquisitions to Shared Services to IT implementations, changes are happening at an alarming rate of speed. Barriers to Change

While most organizations spend the bulk of their resources and energy on the technical and business process components during a change, the greatest risk for failure is actually on the human side of projects. This is especially true when the business change is enterprise-wide or a transformational change.

Change Agents often ask us to predict what the barriers to organizational change will be. So, based on our many years of experience in change management consulting we’ve put together a list of the 5 most common “bumps in the road” that cause projects to slow down or derail... and what to do about them.

  1. Lack of Clear Scope/Definition: One of the most common barriers to accelerating a change is the lack of a common understanding of what the change actually is!   Too often there is no clear, concise picture of what the future looks like. In Don Harrison’s words, "if you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?"

    TO DO: The starting point for every change management project must be a clear, compelling definition of the change. In order to accurately do this, there are four questions that need to be asked: What is changing? Why is it changing? What are the consequences for not changing? And, how will success be measured?

  2. Prioritization Problems: So many projects... so little time (and so few resources). Virtually every organization today has too much going on, creating a huge amount of stress on everyone involved. The question is how do you manage project prioritization

    TO DO: Implementation management is a ferocious, resource-consuming activity. Once the strategy is designed you are only 15% of the way to your business transformation! You still have 85% of the journey ahead.  The best advice: focus down to speed up.

  3. Insufficient Active Change Leadership: If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times: Sponsorship is the single most important factor in implementation success!  But remember, project Sponsors must do more than sign a check authorizing funding for an initiative and show up at the project launch meeting. They must authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership throughout the lifecycle of the project.

    TO DO:
    It is critical for Sponsors to be consistently expressing, modeling, and reinforcing their personal and collective commitment to the change.  This includes Executive leaders down through the middle layers of your organization. It is the cascade of commitment that we are seeking as Change Agents.

  4. Resistance to Change: If you are attempting business transformation, you should anticipate up-front that you are going to create high levels of disruption, and consequently high levels of resistance to change. The AIM methodology principle is that resistance is a function of the level of disruption to your Targets, not whether people like or dislike a change. If you don't see change resistance, rest assured it is there! 

    TO DO: Managing resistance to change is crucial. Don't expect to communicate or train your way out of resistance. In fact,
    a good Change Agent will take advantage of resistance and use it as an opportunity to gather project feedback.  

  5. Poor Communications:   There is a common belief that just getting a message out to an audience is enough to get buy-in, eliminate resistance and even drive behavior change.  As a result, too many organizations singularly invest in top-down, one-way communications that don’t motivate people to move from the status quo to the desired state.

    TO DO:
    A change management communication plan is not at all the same thing as a change implementation plan.  Center your efforts on communicating the right message, to the right audience, using the right vehicles, and always includes a feedback loop to gather reactions to both content and process. Sending the same message to everyone will not be sufficient.

  6. Lack of Rigorous Governance for Transformational Changes: How will the transformation be managed? If you are investing in an organizational change that is transformational in scope and complexity, you can't have multiple approaches with no oversight on how the program is being managed from the portfolio down to the sub-project level.  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.

    TO DO:
    Employ a consistent, repeatable process for implementing changes such as IMA’s proprietary Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM). It’s a flexible, but business-disciplined change management methodology that is scalable for projects of any size or complexity, from every day changes to transformational change. 

So, that’s it...our list of the top 6 barriers to change. Are you currently trying to jump any of these hurdles in your organization? 

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Topics: Change Agents, Barriers to Change