Overcoming Resistance to Organizational Change
Despite the fact that modern workplace practices are gaining in popularity, many organizations find that these changes are difficult to implement. Sometimes leadership hesitates to embrace a new way of business, and sometimes individuals and teams fail to wholeheartedly adopt an organizational culture change. So, why do some businesses cling to traditional workplace values and avoid modern practices?
Three things typically interfere with an organization’s ability to implement organizational culture change: status quo bias and loss aversion, also known as habit and fear, and a lack of understanding, or ignorance. These factors represent natural human habits that must be overcome in order to achieve true change.
We all know that change is hard. But when we try to create organizational culture change, that difficulty is multiplied by every person in your company. If you start out planning organizational culture change without planning around the difficulty of change, you may find you aren’t as successful as you could have been.
Since every company will need to implement organizational culture change at some point, here are three steps you can take to overcome or eradicate these limiting factors:
Clearly outline the need for change
A status quo bias refers to situations in which people prefer to take no action or stick with an existing decision. A status quo bias isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes taking no action is the best action. But if you think this kind of bias is preventing your organization from implementing an important organizational culture change, you need to present a case for why the current situation does not meet your company’s needs.
For example, if your company is discussing the pros and cons of radical transparency regarding salary, some leaders may ask what’s so wrong with the old system: salaries are typically a private thing, so why open that barrel of worms? However, if radical transparency would align with your company’s culture values, it may be an important step to take in order to secure employee trust and publicly acknowledge your company’s stance on equal pay. Without pointing to the need to reinforce these values, however, the leadership team may feel justified in advocating for business as usual.
Understand the motivations behind traditional values
Fear is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, it sometimes motivates us in the wrong direction. For instance, it can make us want to avoid risk, even when risk might be strategic. If someone on your team expresses fear about a new change, don’t downplay their concern. Instead, try to understand the motivations behind the traditional workplace values that are being defended, as well as the hesitations behind not adopting more modern practices.
For example, companies that want to be more agile won’t be successful if they simply ask employees to suddenly start experimenting and trying new things. Employees will hesitate or not perform to your standard because fear holds them back. Instead, you need to ask what behaviors make employees agile, which will help you see that they could be afraid to fail for many different reasons: past negative experiences, no support for failure in evaluations, or the wrong definition of failure. Understanding and addressing these root motivations will help you successfully implement organizational culture change.
Show examples of change in action
When you haven’t done something before, it’s easy to think of what can go wrong or find it difficult to trust that it will work out. You simply don’t know what you don’t know, so change represents an enormous risk. Instead of bullying your organizational culture change through the ranks, build your case with real-life examples of pros and cons to show how these changes will work once they are implemented.
Let’s say you realize remote teams could help your company achieve certain strategic goals, but you find that the leadership team doesn’t think remote workers give 100% to the job. Help these leaders overcome the aversion to remote culture by providing examples of highly successful and efficient teams like Buffer and Basecamp that work 100% virtually. Then reinforce the virtual employee onboarding process and remote leadership habits that will ensure that employees maintain maximum productivity when they work virtually.