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The Eight Barriers to Changing Organizations

David Chaudron, PhD

Based on our experience, there are several significant causes to an organization's change efforts to stumble or stagnate. You can use this information to avoid these barriers, or recover from them if you have hit that proverbial brick wall.

Need-technique mismatch

This problem occurs so often it it just not funny. A manager hires a consultant to help implement buzzword X. A common example of this is when an organization hires someone to conduct a skills training course, but the lack of skill isn't what is causing organizational problems, but instead, it is organizational structure, pay systems, etc. Many organizations put in one IT system after another to solve specific issues, but never realize the lack of integration among the systems they have is the primary cause of their problems.

More fundamentally, however, is the mismatch that occurs on a larger scale. Organizations often use small-scale, incremental techniques such as Six Sigma, when instead they need to evaluate their reactions to future scenarios of a radically changed business climate. They may need to divest themselves of a money-losing division instead of pouring more money into an industry that is dying a slow death.

Not making systemic changes

Management must realize that to fully implement change, satisfy its customers, and promote teamwork in the entire organization, often wrenching systemic changes must be made: Profit sharing may be introduced; individual performance appraisals may be radically changed or eliminated; organizational structure may be realigned away from functions (production, quality, engineering) to a customer-, process- or geographic-based structure; information may be given to employees formerly reserved for senior management; and significantly more authority may be given to line employees. The alignment between organizational systems rarely occurs.

Not making decisions up front

Many organizations need to design the architecture of their quality effort. If they do not, they risk pouring time and dollars into an effort that will eventually collapse. Among the decisions that should be made up-front, before implementing organizational change are: the measures of success; the degree of employee involvement; the depth and breadth of implementation; and the techniques to be used. As someone once said, If you don't know where you are going, you may not like it when you get there.

Caught between the square peg and NIH diseases

Many organizations buy canned implementation efforts that describe for them, step by step, what to do. This square peg approach is often not appropriate for the round hole of the organization. This kind of effort can often lead to many of the problems described in this article.

On the other hand, organizations can also become infected with the not invented here (NIH) disease. They insist in reinventing the wheel when it isn't necessary to do so. I know one consultant who made a lot of money because of this disease. The rivalry between two manufacturing plants belonging to the same company was so fierce that they refused to talk to or learn from each other. This is despite the fact that they were located only a few miles apart.

With cloud-based computing, the opposite can occur. The lure of cheap, no hassle implementation may hide the stresses and strains that require the business to change how they conduct day-to-day operations.

Mass training vs web-based training

If you wish employees to use their training, organizations must train them in skills specific to their needs just in time to use them. Too many organizations have spent untold thousands of dollars and hours on training employees on concepts they may never need. If they do need these concepts, they will need refresher courses because their training was long ago. Because mass training puts such a burden on organizational resources, not all members of work teams are trained at once. As a result, some know what to do but others do not, which causes more confusion.

On the other hand, organizations may allow training in an employee's spare time. With web-based training available almost everywhere, it's tempting to conclude because it's convenient, employees will take time from their busy day to complete training. In today's environment, who has the spare time?

The no top management support excuse

Supervisors and line employees have often complained that they do not receive management support for their efforts. I believe all parties are at fault for this problem. Management may not fully realize what they specifically need to do to support SSTs, and SSTs choose to 1) work on problems that don't interest management or 2) don't get the proper authority and specific support from management before they start their efforts. This no management support is caused by unclear or unknown expectations.


An interesting problem in organizational change is hero and buzzword worship. There are Deming worshipers, Crosby worshipers and Covey worshipers. These cults of personality often get in the way because any concept not uttered by one's hero is suspect and probably not true. Organizations can often get into this labelitis by swallowing a buzzword and avoiding any concept not labeled as such. Learning about the "latest thing" can be excuse for not implementing what needs to be done.

Not measuring results

No only do organizations not measure results, they often desperately try to figure out if they were successful after organizational change has already taken place. This is the messiest way to determine if change happened, because sometimes 1) the data should have been gathered before the organizational change happened and can't be collected afterwards; 2) politics play their role as those asking if the change was successful may have hidden agendas seeking to either justify what has already been done or destroy what is taking shape.