How to Overcome the Top 4 Barriers to Organizational Change

WalkMe Team
By WalkMe Team
Updated May 2, 2023

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future, ” John F. Kennedy notably said. That is especially true when it comes to business.

In volatile markets in which change is constant and unpredictable, companies that fail to adapt will struggle to survive.

With so many uncertain disruptions as of late, from the economy to world health, organizational leaders understand this more than ever. The need to pivot and constantly redefine is what will define the companies of the future.

Despite this, many companies are plagued by inertia, or the inability to change to better fit current needs. They become comfortable with the status quo instead of seeking ways to improve. Although each organization faces unique challenges, there are certain common barriers to organizational change that make adapting difficult.

Anticipating such barriers and addressing them proactively can help change managers minimize resistance and promote innovation during transition periods.

1. Seeing change as a threat instead of an opportunity

Resistance is one of the greatest barriers to organizational change. The first step to mitigating resistance is to identify the cause.

Often, the issue that belies resistance is a failure to understand why change is necessary. When the benefits of a proposed change are not clear, employees are more likely to believe it will impose undue stress in their workflow or threaten their productivity.

In some cases, the need for change is evident. For example, if a department’s performance has declined, most people will agree some sort of course-correction is in order. But in other scenarios, it’s more difficult for staff to recognize the need to change. Perhaps they don’t notice that a long-held process is actually hindering efficiency, or a policy has become outdated. In these situations, employees might see change as unnecessary and burdensome.

Change managers can avoid resistance by clearly explaining how the change will benefit employees.

HOW: Be specific — humans are self-serving creatures. They want to know how a change will benefit the company, they also how it will make their individual jobs easier. As soon as employees see a proposed change as an opportunity to succeed, they will not only stop resisting, they will become advocates

2. Lack of transparency and poor communication from leadership

Communication is always an essential leadership trait, but it’s even more critical for motivating employees to embrace change. An opaque leadership style and poor communication are serious barriers to organizational change.

Credit: HBR

Although the need for reform might be clear to the CEO and other department heads, the rest of the organization may not have access to the information and data that justifies the given change. Leaders will have a hard time rallying support if they aren’t transparent.

HOW: While a change is still in the planning stages, leaders should carefully articulate:

  •  why it’s necessary
  • the main goals 
  • who will be affected
  • the timeline for implementation
  • how progress will be assessed

Providing answers to these questions will foster greater trust between employees and leadership, and make the overall transition period smoother.

3. Not inviting employee input

Giving staff a seat at the table should be more than just a courtesy when undergoing change management. No one in your organization has better insight into what it’s like to perform a job than the people who do it every day.

If there is a need to update certain policies, implement a new software system, or change a long-held process, solicit input from staff.

HOW: Draw from employee experiences to hear ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to those farther removed from the change. By giving employees greater ownership during the planning phase, it will be easier to motivate them to embrace change. Once you have buy-in, employees will be more willing to champion the change among their peers.

4. Leaders who think strategy is set in stone

To succeed in a rapidly evolving business world, an organization’s strategy must be agile. One of the most overlooked barriers to organizational change is an unwillingness among leaders to amend strategy to account for emerging internal and external forces.

Conditions that spurred transformation are subject to change as time goes on. That means change strategy must have enough flexibility built in to bend and adjust. If a change initiative is too rigid, the end goal of the change could become obsolete before it is fully implemented.

HOW: The key is not to get stuck strategizing. Although planning is an important part of effective change management, it is impossible to create a perfect strategy.

Credit: PMI

Organizational change to fit our times

Post COVID-19, companies are adjusting to new business realities as they navigate the Next Normal.

Company processes have radically shifted as offices began working remotely and accommodating a more flexible workspace policy. The needs of an organization are dynamic, and in a 21st-century climate, many companies are focusing on creating an agile digital strategy that extends the ROI on their software investments.

Along with digital infrastructure, employee roles are becoming more fluid as they reskill and upskill to fit evolving business needs.

Change is constant and removing barriers to organizational change will be the catalyst for any company’s growth and development. 

WalkMe Team
By WalkMe Team
WalkMe pioneered the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) for organizations to utilize the full potential of their digital assets. Using artificial intelligence, machine learning and contextual guidance, WalkMe adds a dynamic user interface layer to raise the digital literacy of all users.