Barriers to Change

Change can sometimes be hardChange management has been a widely used term for a decade or two. Some think that the term should already be forgotten, because modern work and leadership are constantly in change. The working environment and culture needs to be evaluated and improved all the time in many organizations.

Yet, many organizations let people, who have no idea about how change should be followed through, manage change. This spring I had the opportunity to witness just that. An organization took a new procedure into use, however, the evangelists and “change agents” didn’t believe in the new way of working themselves. For example, a training session started by stating how the old ways will be missed and how sorry we are about the not-so-good new way of doing things and that one just has to manage somehow. This is fortunately a rare and extreme example, but I was still shocked to encounter such behavior since change management isn’t exactly a new thing.

Bob Pike held a session in the Training Conference in February about how to design participant-centered training. Actually the whole session was about the barriers to change organizations and people can have. After all, training and learning often means learning a new or different way of doing things. After each training there’s always the challenge of how to keep the new procedure as the primary way of doing things, instead of just slipping back to the old habits.

There are three very clear barriers to change. Old habits and customs may be so strong that even if the new way of doing is better, the person may still not want to leave his comfort zone and change the old habit. In an earlier Cloudriven blog post, Janne Haonperä told us how habits are formed and how to break them.

Another obstacle for change is the environment, i.e. the culture. Sometimes the workplace and the organization don’t support the change that a certain individual or group wants to follow through but rather pushes people back to the old ways. If the environment doesn’t support the change, the person has to put on a lot of effort and be even more determined in order to get the new ways into use than if the environment would support the change.

One simple example is doing office work standing instead of sitting. If one doesn’t have an (electrically) adjustable table and there are no tables suitable for working standing up in the office and there are no desires to get a suitable table, is the change hard to follow through. One might have the opportunity to work at home and get a suitable table there but if the support of the environment is lacking the change might be almost impossible. With good arguments one might be able to change the environment’s general stand and eventually get to organize the change with the support of the environment.

Third barrier to change is too many changes happening at the same time. If you try to manage many changes at the same time, it’s much harder to reach the goal successfully. Change and learning always require resources, energy and concentration. Many changes happening at the same time usually leads to bad results.

For instance, if you decide to start a new life, stop smoking, start eating healthier and even exercise more, it is likely that these simultaneous changes take too much energy and you eventually go back to the old and easy ways. However, dividing the one big change into smaller chunks and following each through one by one will help you to achieve long-lasting results. When you’ve finished with the first step successfully, it’s easier and more motivating to take the second step and learn something new. So learn first how to work while you’re standing and after that you can learn how to use the mouse with your left hand. Don’t be too greedy and try to change everything at once or your stress levels will skyrocket and you’ll quit more easily!

Whether you’re planning to make some changes in your personal life or in your organization, you will be more likely to succeed if rhythm, repetition, reflection and recognition are taken into account in your actions. Read more about our TrainEngage Method.