Challenges of organisational change

Change is difficult for both individual and organisation. 
For an individual, it is a biological instinct to draw on advantages and avoid disadvantages. The instinct gives us strong survivability, but in the meantime, it also makes us averse risks and uncertainties. Thus, we develop habits, and our behaviour is locked - We obtain immunity to change. 
For an organisation, it is even more difficult to change. In my opinion, there are two challenges involved: 1. Difficult to recognise the need to change. 2. Difficult to implement changes.

Difficult to recognise the need to change.

Similar to an individual’s habit, an organisation also develops the habit from its history of growth - path dependence, which can be misleading in two ways: 
  1. There is no need to change at all. The organisation would attribute the success in the past to certain things. They believed that as long as they kept investing in these things, the business would keep growing. 
  • But the reality is only the ones who can keep changing to adapt to the environment would survive. In the book Skin in the Game”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has an interesting finding: In 20th centre, a company could stay on the list of S&P 500 for over 60 years once selected. However, nowadays, one company only can stay on the list for 10 to 15 years. Change is inevitable for survival.
  1. There is no need to make fundamental changes. The organisation would categorise the problems into simple or complicated but solvable ones that require minimal changes to solve.
  • But according to the Cynefin Framework, there are distinct levels of complexity for problems. Tackling different problems needs different tools, methods and environments. Organisational transformation sometimes is inevitable.

Difficult to implement change.

Since we mentioned earlier, individuals have the biological instinct to resist changes, and organisation is made up of individuals with different needs, backgrounds and personalities. For an organisation to implement change, the challenge is not only to change the members’ behaviour, but also to align the members’ behaviour with its vision. 
According to behaviour scientist B.J. Fogg’s theory Fogg Behavior Model, motivation, ability and trigger cause behaviour. It means that we can split the challenge of implementing organisational change into three fields. 
  1. Connected motivation. No one would commit to a task that they are not interested in. Motivation is the core element for behaviour change. Therefore, the organisation needs to understand their motivations and connect them with the organisational vision to create objectives related to both organisation and individual. In design thinking practices, we facilitate ideation workshops to guide participants to develop ideas that they are more motivated to execute. In psychology, it’s called IKEA effect.
  1. Achievable plan. Besides motivation, to make the behaviour change sustainable, the organisation also needs to help member enjoys everyday tasks. It requires that the tasks can’t be too difficult nor too easy. Therefore, the organisation needs to collaborate with the members to develop agreed achievable short-term plans and tasks.
  1. Timely feedback. Feedback is essential to plans. Thus, the organisation needs to prompt timely feedback to understand situations, provide supports needed and adjust the plans. 
When Louis V. Gerstne led the IBM transformation, they created a concept called anchor, which acts as a system to help the team members to align their behaviour with organisational vision. By designing, planning and implementing the anchors, IBM transferred the huge organisational transformation project into many members’ safety tests, which plays a key role in the success of the transformation.