Biggest Barrier to Change

Management workshops and discussion boards often ask what gets in the way of successful change. Typical replies say that Barriers to Change are:
• Money
• Senior sponsorship
• Individuals’ resistance to change
What’s missing here? How about, “It was a dumb idea to start with”?


There’s a presumption that the selected change is the right thing to do but things get in the way of its successful implementation.
Let’s not criticise the principles of Change Management by complaining that it doesn’t do something that it’s not designed to do anyway. I wouldn’t say that because my car lacks wings it’s a lousy plane. Change Management is there to deliver a choice that’s already been made. Its methods and tools aren’t designed to select a good change in the first place.
Kotter’s steps to successful change begin with ‘Start with a sense of urgency’. It’s a matter of getting the right people motivated to act to deliver your vision. It assumes that your change is a good thing. Other models take a step back to consider the present state of affairs. Kanter says, “Analyse the organisation and its need to change”. Morris and Raban say, “Surface dissatisfaction with the present state.” Other guides to Change Management follow the same theme.
None of the popular ones I’ve seen begin with anything like, “First, pick a really good idea”. Maybe if we saw that the selected change:
• Isn’t feasible
• Destroys value
• Isn’t the best option
• Is for the wrong people
• Isn’t the sort of thing that we do

Then maybe we could weed out the bad changes before they cause too much harm. Picking a good thing to do in the first place might also pull down some of the traditional barriers of money, sponsorship and motivation. It’s much easier to motivate someone to implement a good idea than a poor one.
So what’s the step before Change Management? Von Clausewitz summed it up as the Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. APMG Managing Benefits calls it Starting with the End in Mind.
An objective is a result with a purpose, “We will do X because…”. Even if it’s implicit, there has to be a sensible and understood ‘because’ behind the things you choose.
A benefit is a result that a stakeholder perceives to be of value, we see who it’s for and what it’s worth to them. Then we can see if the benefits add up to make the objective worthwhile.
Having a clear understanding of your objectives and benefits before you commit to change raises your chance of success. Confirming that understanding, testing your Big Idea, raises it even more.
For more on how to do this, see The Idea Test.


Kotter 1996
Kanter et al, 1992
Morris and Raben, 1992
Von Clausewitz, On War, 1832
APMG Managing Benefits, Jenner, 2012

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