Article posted on 12 December 2017

What stays in the way of organisational change?

Why is it that the instant we hear “change,” things seem suddenly very complicated and hard to accomplish? Is change the biggest and most difficult leap that organisations experience?

In my opinion, the greatest enemy of organisational change is related to one’s personal insecurity as to whether changes can be implemented successfully. Failure fright, a self-image which, once built up, is really hard to renounce, and the fear to admit the inability to handle certain situations equally hinder the acceptance and embrace of change.

Novelty is always scary. Effective changes need commitment across the board, but also a strong willingness to undergo transformation. Sure enough, change costs – not only figuratively, as organisations realise that changes always imply choices, and choices also entail renunciation, but also literally, as change requires considerable financial resources. However, it all starts from becoming aware and taking on responsibilities: without a minimal effort and the wish to take a first step towards change, the people in an organisation will see change as a battleground and think everything runs against them.

Metaphorically speaking, organisations are like elephants, while individuals – like ants. If we consider the difference between the two, the first thing that comes to mind is that ants are smaller and faster than elephants. In relation to change, though, they are similar: both ants and elephants change only if they’re willing to, or if some external circumstances require them to. Hence, willingness and determination, coherence and consistency vis-à-vis change turn out to be extremely important.

How can you manage to persuade those around you to join the change? Everyone needs to be involved, and employees need to be part of the decision-making process and envisage themselves at the point they want to reach. To bring all this together a common vision is needed, working as an overall support the whole team can hold on to. The kind of vision generated is also important: to get the staff to commit to it, the vision needs to be appealing, clear, attainable and, last but not least, measurable. Also, change needs to be assessed – anything can be measured, if only we want to measure it. Whether focusing on the degree of motivation and involvement or the response to action and to newly introduced values, each organisation decides for itself how and when it expects to see the results of the changes made.

On the other hand, change implies risks, too. Some people may be inconvenienced by it and they might conclude that they can’t find their place in the new framework. It’s up to the organisation to counterbalance wisely the status quo and change. However, safeguarding  a long-established order of things in order not to “unbalance” certain behaviours may jeopardise the whole system and perhaps even ruin the business, in the long run.

I strongly believe that, if only executives and their teams could be more relaxed and open to new experiences, change would come about more smoothly. Step one to making a felicitous change is accepting where you are and wishing to take a different path. So many people approach change defensively: “we want to make changes, but…” The truth is, change isn’t a battle, but an opportunity for improvement according to the common goals and wishes within an organisation – even if it doesn’t always look like that.