Across industries and sectors, the track record for organizational change is bleak. Research finds that anywhere from 50%–75% of change efforts fail. And for those that do succeed, many don’t achieve the goals of the original vision. Why is change so hard?
Usually, figuring out the right answer is not the challenge, whether it’s a new strategy, more-efficient processes or systems, or a new structure that better meets the needs of a growing company. The biggest hurdle to effective organizational change is people. A core part of your job as a leader is to help others overcome the inherent, very human bias toward maintaining the status quo.
In our work of leading change in higher education and teaching students and executives about the change management process, we’ve gained a deep understanding of why resistance happens and what leaders can do to overcome it.
Identifying the Sources of Resistance
You first need to identify who — that is, which individuals and groups — have the biggest potential to thwart positive change. Then you have to unstick them. Doing so begins with understanding their perspectives. In our experience, there are three primary reasons people resist:
Even if you’ve done your homework and have engaged a broad range of stakeholders in determining the new direction for your organization, team, or project, there are undoubtedly going to be people who disagree on substantive grounds. Maybe they don’t agree with your analysis of the problem or they think they have unique experiences, expertise, or information that hasn’t been sufficiently considered. With this type of resistance, your job is to listen and be open to changing your approach based on what you learn.