Our Question of Change survey has revealed some interesting findings about change management in large organisations, particularly around the drivers for change and the barriers to its successful implementation.
Drivers for change
The most commonly cited driver for change was improving the customer experience or customer offer, with over 50% of respondents ranking this as the number one driver of change within organisations in their experience. This was followed relatively closely by cost saving.
It can only be good news that businesses are increasingly recognising that they must understand their customers, anticipate their needs and expectations, and ensure that all services, processes and organisational structures support the ability to deliver the quality services that they expect and require.
Barriers to successfully implementing change
In terms of barriers to successfully implementing change, cultural resistance and capability/skills gaps ranked similarly highly overall, although more people cited cultural resistance as their top ranking factor here. This is perhaps no surprise, and certainly tallies with our own experience of implementing change programmes.
Organisational culture is difficult to control, certainly within the finite bounds of a change programme, and it’s therefore crucial that programme designers have a clear and accurate idea of what an organisation’s culture is like, and a strategy that works with that culture and uses it where possible, rather than trying to fight against it.
Communication will always be key here, and a focus on winning hearts as well as minds. It’s also true that change programmes often highlight broader cultural issues within organisations which require separate strategies to deal with them. Management who struggle to motivate staff, for instance, may benefit from tailored coaching to address this.
Groups most resistant to change
Middle managers were cited as the group most likely to be the most resistant to change, followed by senior managers, then front line staff, then board level executives.
Whilst it is no surprise that middle managers were cited as the group most likely to be the most resistant to change, It is interesting that in this current survey senior managers factor as the second highest group most resistant to change.
Middle managers often feel detached from change when programmes fail to integrate them as leaders of change. Too often change programmes skip the ‘middle core’ in order to directly impact the front line as this will usually be the largest group within the organisation as well as being customer-facing. Whilst this gets results fast, there is a risk of alienating middle and senior managers who become disengaged. When this occurs the implications are costly and difficult to turnaround.
Senior managers factoring as the second highest group most resistant to change is an emerging theme. Initial research shows this has risen during austere times when we have seen polarisation between risk taking and risk adversity amongst senior managers. The pressure is on to drive performance and sometimes the standpoint of ‘if it’s not broken now, why fix it for tomorrow’ prevails and the short term view creates a resistance to change.
Most of us have no problem accepting the importance of top-down communication in driving successful change programmes, but if there are huge gaps between the vision of the board and the buy-in of your front line staff, the system is in danger of collapse. The lesson here then, is do not underestimate the importance of middle and senior management in your change strategy and do not assume they will automatically be on board, just because it’s a board directive.
What are the most important drivers of change within organisations in your experience?
What have you experienced as the most significant barriers to implementing change successfully?
Which of the following groups have you found to be generally the most resistant to change?
The majority of respondents worked in UK businesses employing over 100 people with a turnover of £25million+.