If we know where to go, why is change so difficult? There are a variety of obstacles that companies may need to overcome and that may hinder their efforts to achieve successful change. These hurdles are as diverse as the companies they come from. The following obstacles are typical of some of the issues managers and supervisors face today when trying to implement organizational change. As you read each of the descriptions, decide if the hurdle is affecting your ability to implement change in your department.
You have responsibility for a group that reports to someone else. It is very difficult to be responsible for improvement initiatives for a group that does not directly report to you. Even if you have the best intentions, the group may perceive that you are interfering where you do not belong. As an outsider, you appear to know little about the real issues and how they can best be solved. This will make it difficult for you to gain support from the group.
No Senior Leadership Support
One widely held belief is that to achieve visible change, the support of senior management is needed. This belief makes sense for a variety of reasons and is frequently used as a lever to get senior managers on board. Just as frequently, however, it is used as justification by middle managers to abdicate responsibility for ownership of their functions or as an excuse for an unsuccessful change initiative. It is important to have senior leadership support. We should not overlook the fact that leadership occurs at many levels and change can occur at many levels.
Operating In a Functional Organization
Many organizations still face the problem that they are organized in silos instead of along cross functional lines. These groups are focused solely on their own functional area without any interaction with the groups that are upstream or downstream in the overall process. This type of organization prevents individual groups from playing a part in the end to end processes that directly serve the customer base. A hierarchical system can promote a culture where competing groups battle against each other instead of working together to initiate improvement efforts that will meet the needs and expectations of customers.
Rewarding Individual Performance
There are mixed messages here. Throughout our schooling, we are taught to “do your own assignment without help from your friends.” When we start our careers, we are told about the importance of working in teams. Although this is contradictory to everything we have been taught up to this point, it makes sense, so we remain hopeful and optimistic. Now, a new reality sets-in in an actual work setting. In most organizations, when it comes time for compensation and recognition, everything is based on individual not team performance. How can we expect people to invest the required effort and energy in a team environment when we reward them based on the success of their individual efforts?
Short Term Rewards
At the production level of an organization, it is appropriate for performance to be measured on short term accomplishments. This short-term mentality frequently remains with managers as they progress in the organization. In many organizations, short-term efforts are the ones that are routinely rewarded. This creates a difficult environment in which to attempt change because change requires an investment of funds, resources and time. If the organization is focused on short-term outcomes, it will be virtually impossible to gain the necessary commitment to make significant and lasting change.
Rewarding Effort Instead of Results
A number of organizations reward effort rather than results. For example, the raise, bonus, promotion and recognition may go to the employee who successfully deals with a major customer crisis even if he was the one who caused it! One way to determine what an organization really values is to look at who gets rewarded and take note of that person’s activities.
In almost every organization, there are some people who will resist change. They may be apprehensive about an unknown future and comfortable with the status quo. They may have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. It may also be the fact that people tend to be naturally resistant to change. For whatever reason, these individuals who resist change will have a negative impact on the organization’s efforts to change.
Do More With Less
Frequently, organizations reduce staffing to minimum levels and expect employees to produce the same level of output. This “do more with less” approach burns people out so that they do not have the energy to attack improvement with the level of enthusiasm that is needed. Too often, we form unreasonable expectations about what our teams are capable of and then expect them to fulfill these expectations. Often, the managers in these organizations do not realize that they have pushed their people too far. I have a very clear recollection early in my career of a director of engineering telling our team that it was okay to burn out engineers. You can see how this would demoralize even the most enthusiastic group.
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