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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 innovation.

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 measuring success?  

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  redesign.

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 them?  

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.

 

 

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