In our current turbulent business environment, organisations worldwide are finding it necessary to adapt to ever-changing financial circumstances, revisit product offerings for more nuanced customer needs and strive for innovation and creative solutions to stay ahead of the game. The quest for sustainable growth requires the adoption of new technologies, process re-engineering, restructuring, culture change and perhaps even major strategic shifts. Most companies and their staff don’t necessarily handle these large-scale changes well, with resultant pain and unsuccessful results. Although there could be a myriad of reasons for this seeming inability to handle change well, it seems as if one of the key factors of this lack of success is that barriers that stand in the way of effective change implementation are not adequately removed. Some of these barriers include the following:

  • Intellectual and emotional barriers – not understanding the new behaviours associated with the desired change, disbelief, feelings of “I can’t make that leap” or “I can’t do it” – all these thoughts and feelings tend to paralyse a person, with resultant inactivity and resistance.
  • Communication and information barriers – a lack of information disempowers employees, especially when there is a lack of feedback on actions and performance that relates directly to the desired change behaviour.
  • System and reward barriers – quite besides bureaucracy, which typically impedes progress and innovative change, evaluation and rewards can disempower when they are unrelated or at odds with the direction of needed change.
  • Manager and supervisor barriers – employees may grasp the change vision, but are effectively stymied by managers or supervisors that subtly communicate “This change is ridiculous and is not going to work” through their words, tone and body language or through behaviour that doesn’t correspond with the behaviour required by the desired change. Employees here often give up or spend unnecessary energy trying to circumnavigate the barrier.

Senior leadership needs to be decisive when any of the above barriers are recognised and perhaps do the following:

  • Intellectual and emotional barriers – change is realised when there is emotional buy-in to the new desired direction and not because the next steps just appear logical. Shifts in behaviour occur when peoples’ feelings are influenced (see John P Kotter’s research findings in his influential book “The Heart of Change” – he said: “Changing behaviour is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings”). Leaders therefore need to work with the emotional culture of the organisation in order to be able to effect change.
  • Communication and information barriers – the “dotted line” between current and desired behaviour needs to be drawn constantly for people to experience the “behaviour gap”. Furthermore, a constant flow of information that talks to the change and any progress being made needs to be maintained. Constructive feedback helps to empower people.
  • System and reward barriers – bureaucracy should be dismantled, appropriate measures aligned to the required change should be instituted and reward systems should be directly related to the required targets and milestones in the change process. Evaluation and rewards can empower employees by identifying and compensating behaviour that is required by the vision.
  • Manager and supervisor barriers – leaders that are resistant to the change process need to be confronted and assisted to adopt the total change process. Ignoring such leaders will exacerbate the issues and frustrate everyone related to the manager/supervisor.

In our current chaotic business environment, appropriate change is necessary if companies are to become sustainable and meet customer demands. For this to be realised, all employees need to buy-in emotionally and take ownership of the change process. Astute leadership will take cognisance of the emotional culture of the organisation and use the same effectively to generate an empowered environment where the desired change can be implemented successfully.

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