The 9 Hidden Barriers of Change & How to Uncover Them: A Comprehensive Guide

Rana Bano
February 17, 2023
min read
September 19, 2023
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Understand the barriers that can hinder change and learn effective solutions to overcome them with our guide on organizational barriers of change.
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Change, of any kind, is challenging but ultimately rewarding.

Before reaping the rewards, you have to be prepared for certain barriers to change that may stand in the way of progress and transformation.

What barriers, you ask?

They might be cultural, psychological, structural or technological. Sometimes they intersect, and sometimes they're not so easy to define.

But fear not; you can overcome these barriers and pave your way to success with the right mindset and strategies.

Let's explore organizational change and effective ways to navigate common change challenges.

What is organizational change?

Organizational change is the process of modifying company functions through major or minor transformations. Common examples of this are changes to a company's:

  • Policies.
  • Structures.
  • Processes.
  • Culture.

These changes can be driven by a variety of factors, including shifts in market or industry, technological advancements, changes in leadership or simply the desire to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

The implementation process can be complex and require training, but with effective communication and access to resources, you’ll see a drastic improvement in your company‘s performance and competitiveness in the long run.

What are the benefits of organizational change?

Adapting to change in an organization can be uncomfortable because it's a step out of the usual way of doing business—and no one really appreciates that. But change is essential for the following reasons:

  • Increases efficiency: This can come in the form of shorter production time, quick response and turnaround to customer queries or reduced overhead costs. An increase in efficiency also results in an increase in productivity which helps organizations stay ahead of their competitors.
  • Boosts creativity: When employees react and improvise to change, they become creative and more adaptable as they inevitably find solutions to changing market conditions and customer needs.
  • Attracts growth and innovation: Change opens up new opportunities for growth and innovation. Organizations can create an environment that helps employees take risks and develop creative solutions by introducing process transformation or new software adoption.
  • Improves employee morale and engagement: When employees are involved in organizational change, it gives them a sense of pride and satisfaction as they feel they are part of something bigger. This can have a positive impact on their morale and work productivity.
  • Develops new skill sets: Change in an organization means lots of training and handling new tasks. This helps employees expand their existing knowledge and acquire invaluable skills.
  • Improve customer service: Change can improve customer service through better processes, technologies and methodologies. 
  • Helps you better understand your employees: Organizational change provides an opportunity to understand how your employees work, their talents and what skill sets they possess. This means you'll get meaningful insights into their strengths and weaknesses and how to approach the change process.
  • Improves relationships: When change is implemented in a thoughtful manner that respects everyone involved, it leads to improved communication and understanding between employees, across departments and with customers.
  • Increases revenue: Embracing change helps organizations find and nurture new business ideas and opportunities, ultimately boosting revenue.

What problems can happen if you don’t implement organizational change? 

The business world is constantly evolving in different ways. Everything is in a twist, from customer trends and technology to the economy and market demands. Organizations that don't embrace change as it comes often lose their competitive edge, ultimately failing to meet rising customer demands. 

This was the case with Blockbuster Video

Back in the day, Blockbuster was the "king" of the video rental business, spanning thousands of retail locations and millions of loyal customers. Unfortunately, CEO John Antioco didn't have a vision for the future and was resistant to embrace change. 

Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, had reached out to offer him a partnership as his company (Netflix) was a struggling startup then. Antioco turned him down and for the next ten years, Blockbuster was in decline. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2010, while Netflix continued to innovate, and today is one of the best streaming services in the world.

When you fail to implement change in your organization, you face several problems. This includes:

  • Financial losses as a result of missed opportunities and not taking advantage of new methodologies that could improve operations and reduce costs.
  • Decline in the quality of work due to outdated tools and processes.
  • Inefficient and lack of competitiveness as you can't keep up with industry advancements or changing market conditions.
  • Loss of market share to competitors.
  • Lack of ability to respond to crises.
  • Stuck in old methods and technologies.
  • Diminishing employee morale and engagement, which leads to productivity decline and a high employee turnover rate.
  • Stagnation, which makes it difficult to attract and retain customers, employees and investors.
  • Limited growth and innovation when you cannot adapt to new technologies or emerging market trends.

What are the main barriers of change?

Change is essential for every organization, and can lead to significant benefits if properly implemented. But there are also major hurdles and barriers of change you must overcome for your change processes to be successful:

1. Employee resistance

This is one of the biggest organizational change challenges. Employees are usually more invested in the current process in an organization, especially if it's been running for a while. 

They're already comfortable in the status quo, resisting any form of disruption. They may also be afraid of the unknown and the loss of job security that may come with change. 

To overcome this, organizational leaders should focus on individual transition, drive HR digital transformation and create a conducive environment that gently guides the employees to accept change. 

2. Poor communication strategy

Whether you're training employees on new technology or carrying out process standardization in your organization, communication is incredibly crucial. Without a proper communication strategy that involves everyone, the execution of change initiatives will fail.  

Communicating change by memos and announcements, without any form of discussion on strategies and how the change will affect the employees' lives, will present a challenge in any organization. 

3. Unclear objectives

According to Gartner, organizations are increasingly undertaking major firm-wide changes, with 75 percent of companies expected to increase their change initiatives in the coming years. Yet only 34 percent are an apparent success, while half of the change initiatives fail. 

One of the major reasons for this is unclear objectives and lack of clarity. 

Employees and management may be unwilling to fully commit to change if they don't clearly understand the value the change brings to their day-to-day job. They end up being more fearful than excited about the change.

4. Change fatigue

Change fatigue occurs when you have multiple projects running simultaneously, all at the implementation stage. It's common for an organization to undergo a lot of transformation over the year. 

But when the transformation or change happens at the same time, the employees get overwhelmed, which eventually results in burnout, frustration and low productivity. You can't give all projects equal significance. So, knowing when to prioritize change is crucial.

5. Lack of resources

When organizations don't have the necessary funds or personnel to implement the change, it can pose some challenges, causing the implementation process to be severely hampered. Before moving forward with any change implementation process, it's crucial to ensure that adequate resources are readily available.

6. Lack of support from management

For your change initiative to be successful, you need buy-in from top-level management. Your company's upper management needs to be fully on board with the changes for everyone else to get on board. 

More than sponsoring the change initiative, their job also entails taking a supportive part in planning for the change and leading by example. As they say, "change starts at the top but happens at the bottom."

7. Organizational complexities

A common mistake HR leaders make is developing complex processes, which also complicates change planning and implementation. These complexities could come from products, systems or changes in the organizational structure—or from process transformation procedures that are perhaps difficult for the employees to understand or handle. 

All these contribute to change barriers in the organization. You can break this barrier by adopting a highly effective change management approach, but it's better to avoid complicating your change process in the first place.

Why complicate things, right?

8. Lack of active participants

Adopting a change can often prove to be a challenge even after it has been successfully implemented and its impact is felt at work. Employees may struggle with adjusting to the new change, feel uncertain about where to start or have reservations about the potential drawbacks.

Lack of proper planning and preparation can also contribute to confusion and resistance among employees, leading to a lack of active participation. To overcome these barriers, it is important to provide regular training and make use of complementary tools to ensure a smooth transition.

9. Political & power struggle

If there is internal competition for resources or power, it can impede the change process. 

Instead of working together for the organization's good, different units and managers may compete for recognition, allocation of resources and promotion. This leads to unnecessary chaos, which then becomes a significant barrier to organizational change.

How to resolve organizational change barriers for a strong change management program

Identifying the barriers of change is only the first step to having a smooth change process transformation. The next step is to resolve the barriers of organizational change in a way that works best for everyone involved—the employees and the management. 

The following tips can help you resolve change barriers: 

1. Don’t ignore resistance

The best way to handle employee resistance is to identify it early on before it becomes ingrained and difficult to overcome. Pay attention to any signs of resistance, such as inaction, withholding information, procrastination and the spread of rumors. 

Additionally, success in overcoming resistance lies in communication. You must address the change by communicating the what, the why, the how, the who and the when. 

Create feedback loops like surveys, feedback channels and input sessions with your employees to identify signs of resistance and take fast action quickly.

2. Involve your employees

Employees are the people who fuel change and sustain its momentum. Your change initiatives will fail if they don't believe in or engage in the change process. 

Don't just expect them to accept the new processes. Instead, actively check the pulse of the employees, gauge how they feel about the initiative and act on the feedback. 

Involving your employees helps them feel more invested in the change and less likely to resist it.

3. Have a communication plan

A clear strategy for communication is a vital part of resolving change barriers. Communicating the reason for the change and how it will affect the employees helps them overcome resistance and build support for the change.

Your communication plan should include the following:

  • Providing regular updates throughout the implementation stage.
  • Putting change agents in charge of communication from each department to present the change.
  • Having brainstorming sessions that will encourage everyone to speak up and play an active role in the change process. This will result in some innovative ideas and improve cohesion among the employees.

4. Provide training & support

Training is essential to implementing change, especially if it involves learning new skills. Provide employees with the necessary training and support that familiarizes them with the newly implemented change and makes them feel more confident in handling it. 

Scribe is a great tool to build and share step-by-step visual guides — complete with instructions and screenshots — in seconds. All you have to do is turn on the recorder and go through your process. The tool will automatically generate written and customizable SOPs, work instructions and other documentation, which you can then share with your team.

If you want to make comprehensive documentation, Scribe offers a handy 'Pages' feature, using which you can combine multiple scribes into one — just like this one:

Use Scribe and Pages to build training manuals, template, procedures and other knowledge base content.


You can also use a digital adoption platform to create in-app content like interactive walkthroughs, step-by-step workflows and embedded knowledge bases when training employees on new technology. 

5. Use a change management model

When enacting change in your organization, you're up against human psychology, company culture and momentum. And without the right tools to guide you through the change process, it's unlikely you'll win. 

Luckily, with a change management model, you can connect your strategy to action, increasing the likelihood of success. 

Different change management models exist, but they all have the same core function of planning for and implementing change. The ADKAR model, for instance, can help you identify pain points early on to prevent the frustration that causes change barriers.

6. Prioritize well

This tip helps in reducing change fatigue. Instead of a large, multiple-change project implementation, go for a slower, phased change approach. Start small and gradually scale up, so your employees don't get overwhelmed with information or process transformation overload. 

7. Get leadership fully involved

For your organizational change to be successful, everyone must be involved, from upper management to lower-level employees. Leaders should provide support and guidance throughout the change process.

When employees see that top management is fully onboard by communicating and establishing directions for the change, they'll feel more confident and drop their reservations regarding the change.

8. Make the change compelling and exciting 

An excellent way to do this is by prioritizing purposeful, clear and consistent communication. Provide context to help them understand what the change means to them and how it will impact their work. 

With a deep understanding of the change, they'll likely turn around and ask, "How can I help?' When this mindset shift occurs, you can be sure that any change resistance or barrier has been deterred. 

Overcoming barriers to change is all about winning your employees' hearts. Change is a continuous process that requires time to achieve desired results. So it's critical to understand and manage these barriers to change to make your transition as smooth as possible.

Break down the barriers of change

With an in-depth understanding of the main barriers of change, you'll find yourself better equipped to handle and overcome them.

This blog post will set you up to take them head-on, but you'll still need to adapt and innovate at times to achieve the desired outcomes. Be sure to get buy-in from employees and the management, and you'll find yourself in a better position to create smoother work processes and build a healthy work culture for everyone.

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