Why is organizational change so hard?

Change will always feel a little uncomfortable, but there is a way to deal with it.

Steffan Surdek
June 20, 2022
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As a leader, why do you wish to bring about change? Whether it is updating internal processes, keeping up with your evolving industry, implementing new technology or changing your work culture, all businesses will face change at one time or another.

Change may be necessary to ensure the health and well-being of your organization. Under these circumstances, a radical change can sometimes be required to ensure the survival of the business.

In this post, I will cover why change can be so difficult inside organizations and what you can do once you decide to bring about change.

Why change can sometimes be difficult for teams

During your career, were some environments easier to change than others? Recently, I read an article about a Gallup poll that indicated that almost 70% of people in the labour market did not like their jobs.

Considering the number of hours spent at work, there is something quite disturbing in this statistic. This is why it is critical for you to invest in your team's development.

On the other hand, this statistic helps understand why, when we’re talking about changes to certain teams, they manifest cynicism and we hear comments such as the following ones:

  • "What will it do? Anyway, everything will remain the same."
  • "Do executives really want this change?"
  • "Why should I invest myself in this change? It will only increase my workload!"

Under such circumstances, a shock treatment is sometimes what is needed to create a sense of urgency that will rekindle the flame.

How to jumpstart the change

One way to begin this shock treatment is to take the time to stop and think about your default future. Have you ever heard of this concept? Nope? Yet, we all have one in several aspects of our lives.

Our default future is what will happen if we change absolutely nothing to what we are currently doing.

Imagine yourself on a beach during one of your vacations. It’s late in the afternoon. You’re lying down comfortably in a hammock, and the sun is slowly setting down. What’s next? Close your eyes and try to imagine…

You will possibly go back to your room to have a shower and change. Then, you and your spouse will have supper in one of the restaurants, go for a drink, and then watch the night show. It’s a logical sequence, isn’t it? Chances are that’s what you will do for the next week without really thinking about it, just going with the flow of your life.

Without noticing it, this default future is sometimes living deeply in each of us, and we do not know how to get out of it. So, we are almost resigned to go ahead with it. However, what is important to understand is that this future is not yet reality. It is still possible to change it via our actions.

Imagine and discuss your default future

Back to our shock treatment! What will happen in your organization or team if you change absolutely nothing to what you are doing? Do you have the courage to ask yourself this question and explore the answer? Do you have the courage to discuss this matter honestly with your teams?

From experience, I can tell you that it is not always an easy conversation to have. At the organizational level, we can talk about our market positioning, financial health, or even business survival. At the team level, conversations are slightly different, but it’s much about the place it occupies in the organization.

The goal of the conversation is to fully explore your default future in order to bring awareness in the group regarding the need for change. As long as you do not reject your default future, you will not have the motivation to do something in order to prevent from going through it.

Another objective of this conversation is to allow for discussions and to take frustrations out in order to make room for naming and inventing the future you wish to create.

However, I see a few challenges arising if you only use the default future to provoke change within the context of a group:

  1. Exploring the default future does not help the members of the group to be aware of their behaviors that led them in that direction.
  2. By exploring solely the default future without creating an invented future and establishing a plan to reach it will keep the group on the same place.
  3. The default future may seem very far, unrealistic, or impersonal for some people.

Even if you are shocked by your default future and reject it, your motivation to make change happen can diminish quickly. That is why you need to take it a step further.

Define an inspiring vision

The default future is a real shock treatment to create a sense of urgency. However, a softer approach would be to define and present an inspiring vision to your team in order to lead to change.

To increase the power of your vision, you could even have other individuals take part in its definition and that of related objectives. Afterwards, these people could be internal champions who help bring the change throughout the organization.

Depending on the magnitude of change, it could be interesting for you to make it a formal project. Define a clear vision and business goals, as well as clearly stating expectations with your team. I discuss this topic further in our article on the 4 powerful questions you can ask your team to stimulate change.

Addressing change as a project allows to track it throughout the organization’s normal processes. It also allows to keep the project visible to everyone and to be more than a group workshop or just a presentation.

Conclusion

Change is hard for most people, because our brains are hardwired to stay in what is familiar. As a leader though, part of your role is to present a vision of where your organization is headed.

You need to discuss the default future and make your inspiring vision clear with your team. This is part of the criteria required to make the change a success for your organization.

When you decide to bring change, it is important that the rationale for this change be understood by those impacted by it.

What change are you trying to bring to your organization or team? Is your default future powerful enough to give you the motivation to change?