Research Paper By Audrey Blair
(Leadership & Confidence Coach, UNITED STATES)
Exploring the Barriers of Change
Change Is …
… the act of transforming from one thing to another … the act of becoming different. It’s everywhere, all the time. Research has proved that the pace of change is getting exponentially faster. The rate it takes for us to adapt to new technology is a steep downward sloping curve (dishwasher 80yrs, microwave 35yrs, cell phone 6yrs). You see it in your workplace, in the younger generation, in kids’ schools, and the learning curriculum. How many of you can help your kid with math without first googling the answer and working backward?
People change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the change.
Professionally, I have worked in the IT field for over 20 years. More recently, I’ve shifted my focus to helping clients that are undergoing digital transformation through the discipline of change management, which is the people side of change. As a certified Change Practitioner and Leadership Coach, I have the privilege of serving people as they navigate the emotional and practical elements of change. We change for a reason, but let’s face it, change is hard; even when it’s something we want or need. Change requires loss; with a loss there’s grief. As I write this, we are amid a global pandemic, COVID-19, an environment like none we’ve ever seen before. It has simultaneously halted our social activities while accelerating digital transformation growth. There seems to be a re-balancing of the work-life construct. Companies that have long resisted the idea of ‘work from home’ are being forced to recognize the positive impact on productivity and work-life balance. Companies like Microsoft and Zoom have experienced rampant growth in the adoption of their cloud-based virtual meeting spaces.
The Barriers to Change
Consider an impending change. There are three perspectives from which this can be viewed:
- A personal change you are asking of yourself.
- A change someone else is putting on you. This may be a request from a personal relationship, a boss, or a change happening to a team or social group you are a part of.
- A change you are imposing on someone else. You may be responsible for one or more people in your household, your job, or social group.
Why do some changes succeed while others fail? When I’m working with organizations, one of the most critical things I emphasize is: Organizations don’t change, People change. That goes for the household, the team, the group, the church … it starts with the individual. It starts with you. Every person must go through a personal ‘Current >Transition >Future state’ process, no matter the size of the change. But what blocks the process from moving forward? Most of us know what to do, and yet it’s not enough. Understanding the deeper issues that get in the way is important for yourself and those you are asking to change. Once you can identify which stage is halting progress, a plan of action can be applied.
Barrier 1: CLARITY
Change begins with understanding WHY. A clearly defined, deeply rooted, intrinsic value that creates the core of the decision, is the anchor. That doesn’t mean complex, in fact, the simpler, the better. Coaching clients who go through the work of refining an idea, stripping away the surface level reasons and external pressures, have better success of getting to the core and defining what needs to change. The nature of the change is an important consideration as well. How will it impact the current situation and what will it look like once the change has occurred? Sometimes change is seen as a threat and it is necessary to explore opinions and views about the current state of things.
Sometimes I work with organizations that invested considerable time and money on an initiative that has not gone well. A common complaint is that “people aren’t adapting what we’ve implemented”. When asked how this change initiative was communicated to those who are now expected to “adapt”, the answers are typically, very little to no communication about what to expect. And yet, their island expectation is to get on board. When you are in a position to ask others to change, it is your responsibility to be clear on what they’re being asked to do and why.
Working with coaching clients, it is important to explore motivations, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that is driving the desire to change. Those who desire a change that is intrinsically motivated and in alignment with personal values are more likely to have clarity.
Barrier 2: DECISION
Everybody ends up somewhere … Only a few end up there on purpose.
You must DECIDE to believe that change is possible and as a result, volunteer yourself to support and participate fully to move forward. Intrinsic motivators are inherent attributes that set us apart from one another. One person is motivated by helping others, another just wants to avoid pain. This includes what we value and whether we think the desired result is worth it or even achievable. Do I believe if I put in the time and energy, it’s going to yield something greater?
When you are working with others, the “what’s in it for me” dictates whether they deem the change as an opportunity or a threat and is a factor in the decision they make. If you are not able to communicate to someone you’re asking to change, “what’s important for them”, you either don’t know them or their situation well enough or you haven’t thought about them enough before asking them to change.
Barrier 3: CAPACITY
Once you have clarity and decide to change, how must be explored? This step is a blocker for many because they skip it. They get a clear vision, get motivated, and try to skip to the end. And as a result, the change is not realized. It’s like planning a trip cross country, envisioning where you want to go, but never planning the route or identifying what resources will be necessary along the way. CAPACITY is the stage at which you plan what needs to be done, how it can be done, and gaps in between. Are there resources, support, and other tools necessary?
Considering what else is on in your life or that of others is often overlooked. Throwing something new in the mix can lead to guilt, exhaustion, and a loss of hope of getting anything done. It is important to acknowledge that there may be additional training, support, and an understanding of responsibilities associated with the change.
Barrier 4: CAPABILITY
This stage represents the ability to perform the desired actions needed to implement the change and achieve the desired outcome. Many mistake the idea that knowing what to do is the same as being to execute the skill. I know what it is to race in a triathlon – you swim, your bike, you run. Right? But if you were to tell me we are participating in a triathlon tomorrow … ha! … no chance! I have not acquired the training, the skills, or the mindset necessary to complete a race like that in such a short timeframe. Given time, however, it can be done through practice, persistence, discipline, and desire. It is critical to not only understand your current capability but allow yourself time to acquire those skills. We want results and we want them now, but there is a process, both physical and mental, that must be executed to gain mastery and create new habits.
Rewire the way you think about change
If you are unaware or unwilling to see the truth of the barriers that get in the way, they will remain. However, once you understand them, they can be converted into building blocks of change. The key is identifying the first barrier point that is considered weak (or low). Maybe you are fully aware and have clarity around a change but have not decided to do it.
We are creatures of habit. Our mind works very hard to offload tedious tasks and convert them into habits. How does our brain know what to catalog as a habit? The behaviors, thoughts, and actions that are repetitive. This is important to understand, habits are not just actions, they include behaviors and thoughts. Neuroscientists have determined that habits are found in an area of our brain called the basal ganglia which play a key role in the development of emotions, memories, and pattern recognition. So, the more often you behave a certain way, the more your neurotransmitters rewire themselves to make it automatic. That is the good news, it is possible to rewire what we think and the things we do to make the desired change lasting and fulfilling.
Internet Trends 2018, Mary Meeker
Hiatt, Jeffrey, ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government, and our Community.Prosci Learning Center Publications, 2006.
Creasey, Timothy. Change Management, the people side of change. Prosci Learning Center Publications, 2012.