Challenges of Organizational Change
Initiating and Sustaining
By Stan Nabozny
From our work with a recent organization, we have come up
with the major challenges for an organizational change. These
barriers were encountered
at the various stages of a significant organizational change. The capabilities
to deal with these issues must be present or there is a risk of failure.
Challenges faced while initiating an Organizational Change
Not Enough Time - A common plea at the
beginning of any change effort. This challenge represents a valuable opportunity for reframing the way that workplaces
are organized, to provide flexibility and time for reflection and
No Support -
Some managers believe that asking for help is a sign of incompetence;
others are unaware of the coaching and support they need. Meeting this
challenge means building the capabilities for finding the right help, and
for mentoring each other to develop successful innovations.
Building Commitment - Creating a compelling
picture for change is an important part of a change effort. If people are not sufficiently committed to an initiative's
goals, a "commitment gap" develops and they will not take part
wholeheartedly. Building commitment depends on candid conversations about
the reasons for change and the commitments people can make.
Leadership values -
What happens when there is a mismatch between the things the boss says and
his or her actual behavior? People do not expect perfection, but they
recognize when leaders are not sincere or open. If executive and line
managers do not provide an atmosphere of trust and authenticity, then
genuine change cannot move forward.
These challenges occur sometime during the first year or two, when the
organization has clear goals and has discovered that new methods save more than
enough time to put them into practice.
Fear and Anxiety - Everyone expresses their fear and
anxiety with a different form of defensiveness. How do you deal with the
concerns of an individual about exposure, vulnerability and inadequacy,
triggered by the conflicts between increasing levels of candor and
openness and low levels of trust? This is one of the most frequently faced
challenges and the most difficult to overcome.
Assessment and Measurement -
How do you deal with the disconnect between the tangible (but unfamiliar)
achievements of the organization and the organization's traditional ways of
Believers and Nonbelievers -
Riding on a wave of early success, speaking their own language, the design
group becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the organization.
Outsiders, meanwhile, are put off and then turned off by the new,
unfamiliar approaches and behavior. These misunderstandings easily
accelerate into unnecessary, but nearly unavoidable, opposition.
These challenges appear as the change gains broader
credibility and confronts the established internal infrastructure and
practices of the organization.
Governance - As the change capabilities and activities increase, it runs
into the priorities and established processes of the rest of the
organization. This leads to conflicts over power and autonomy and to a
destructive, "us-versus-them" dynamic that nobody wants - and
that could be avoided if the capabilities are in place for organizational
Diffusion - Unless organizations learn to recognize and deal with their
mysterious, almost unnoticed inability to transfer knowledge across
organizational boundaries, people around the system will not build upon
each other's successes.
Strategy and Purpose - How do you revitalize and rethink the organization's intended
direction for success, its' contribution to its community and its future
identity? How do you improve the processes of conversation that lead
people to articulate and refine their aspirations and goals for achieving
These problems seem common across most large scale changes organization
are engaged in today. They also seem to happen in the particular sequence
listed above. We hope by making them explicit that this helps you navigate
your own change efforts more effectively.