Empowering broad-based action for successful change leadership
When examining an organisation’s capability to change, a good deal of the focus of change management strategies is to address barriers to change. If employees are resistant to change, then successful change becomes almost impossible.
However, the barriers to change do not begin and end with an organisation’s employees. Many of the barriers to change exist within the organisation itself. If these barriers are not tackled, then even the most motivated employees may be obstructed in their desire to make effective organisational change.
The organisation’s structures, leadership, systems and internal skills are like a bridge. They provide the infrastructure that carries the organisation from its current state to its future vision. Just as when you are on a road trip, if the bridge isn’t fit for purpose, you won’t get to your destination.
To implement change, you must empower broad-based action
In the fifth step of John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change, the organisation, its senior leadership and guiding coalition move from preparation for change to implementation of change by empowering broad-based action. Barriers to change must be eliminated.
Many organisational change initiatives fail because of lack of attention to removing the barriers to change that exist within the organisation. The existing infrastructure, policies and procedures bind the organisation and its employees to the current state. They are part of the fabric of the organisation, developed and embedded over many years. The organisation must make adjustments to enable change to happen.
Before setting out on a road trip, you must make sure that the bridge you plan to use to carry your vehicle, your passengers, and your luggage, will do so.
What are the barriers to change in your organisation?
To eliminate barriers to change, the organisation must first understand them. The process of doing so starts much earlier in the change process, when you select your guiding coalition.
A broad base of seniority, skills, experience and functions will help you truly understand how the organisation operates. Barriers to change will be more easily identified and strategies to eliminate them more easily developed. The barriers to change may include the following.
Formal organisational structures
Existing hierarchies and siloed operations may make it difficult to collaborate or act with the cross-functional viewpoints needed. To eliminate such barriers to change, an organisation should identify organisation-wide systems and approaches that will aid collaboration, and focus on effective execution of the seven essential elements of organisational change communication.
Inherent leadership styles may inhibit change. In organisations that are process-led, managers may focus on the task rather than people. Their idea of success is getting the job done, and they pay little attention to motivation and morale.
Managers play a critical role in influencing and encouraging their people to change. They need to be good storytellers and speak authentically. Multiple communication channels should be utilised to reach out to employees who have different communication preferences – and managers should be open to feedback as they map out a path to the future. (Read our article ‘7 Strategies for Communicating Vision for Change’ for more information.)
Your current systems, which are familiar to your people, may present multiple barriers to change. Additional workloads during implementation of new systems and processes are likely to decrease the time available to learn new systems. The response is that users revert to the old systems and processes.
Strategies to tackle these barriers to change may include hiring temporary staff to reduce workload, while training is provided on new systems that will improve efficiency and productivity and enable transition to the new vision.
Lack of skills
It is almost inevitable that there will be a lack of internal skills to traverse the gap between the current state and the future vision. New systems and processes will be unfamiliar, and new hierarchical structures may lead to misunderstanding and difficulty in interpreting the information critical to success.
Investment in training and development for managers and employees is vital, not an expensive ‘nice-to-have’. Time must be allocated to provide the organisation’s people with the skills they need. The guiding coalition should identify the values, behaviours and skills needed. They should work with human resource and training teams to put in place training, coaching and recognition and reward mechanisms to help align values, behaviours and skills with those needed to make successful change.
It’s easy to instruct your employees to step onto the bridge that will lead them to a new destination. It is more difficult to keep them on it if it should start swaying. By empowering broad-based action, the guiding coalition and change leadership will eliminate the barriers to change that currently exist in the organisation’s current state – and stop the bridge to the future vision from collapsing.