Agile Organizational Change: Three Levels of Resistance: The Organization

When we as coaches come into an organization to try to transform it, we are often met with resistance.  For us, it is a matter of “take the lumps because its good for you”, Do you wonder why sometimes, even in the face of a changing environment, or an existential threat, companies still don’t change?  Even when they say they want to, they still do not.  We can look at companies like Nokia or Blackberry to see examples of companies that resisted change, and when change did come it was too slow and too late.  So where does this resistance come from?

This is a part 1 of a 3 part series on Agile Organizational Change and the Levels of Resistance (The OrganizationThe GroupThe Individual).

Organizational Level Resistance to Change

Power and Conflict.  In any change, there are winners and losers.  In any Agile Transformation, some managers, directors, and individuals become more important and others less-so.  Fiefdoms are demolished and chess pieces are re-arranged.  These changes lead to power struggles, power struggles slow down decision making, and slow decision making slows down the change process.

This happens in many companies, which helps explain why some are resistant to change.  This a reason why sometimes when a company decides to pursue a strategy, you see executives heading out the door.  Because sometimes, the CEO tells them flat out, “If you cant support the new vision, you have to go.”  Keeping change-resistant executives around can sabotage change-related efforts.

Differences in Functional Orientation.  Different functions and divisions see organizational problems differently.  This tunnel vision requires time and effort to be spent agreeing upon the source of a problem.  Development might see the problem as the product manager’s fault, because they send specs too late.  The product manager might see the problem as sales’ fault, because they are always making promises and changing specs to customers’ whims.  Sales might see the problem as the lock-step sales process, that requires them to go through costly change-orders just to satisfy customers’ needs.

Mechanistic Structure.  Behavior becomes standardized through organizational rules and procedures, and in optimizing for standardization and predictability, become resistant to change.  The same mechanical structures that allow a company to have repeatable success are the same structures that prevent a company from being able to react to change quickly and easily.  This paradox explains why some organizations stand idly by and let faster more nimble competitors take market share.

Organizational Culture.  The values and norms in an organization’s culture can become another source of resistance to change.  The values and norms provide stability and predictability in peoples behaviors, but if change disrupts the values and norms, resistance can be expected to follow.

Counteracting Organizational Level Resistance to Change:  This is where leadership is extremely important in that the vision of the future state of the organization must be held in higher regard than any individual fiefdom.  Communicate a sensible vision to everyone.  Make structures, incentives, and rewards compatible with the new vision.  Provide the training that everyone needs.  Align information and personnel systems to the new vision.  Be willing to confront supervisors who undercut needed change.

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