Ready to Get Back on Track? Practical Steps to Overcome Organizational Inertia

Have you wondered what could be accomplished if only your organization could work more effectively as a team, respond better to inevitable schedule changes or serve customers more efficiently? I am fortunate to work with a number of area business owners and senior executives. While they have asked for help with a range of issues, in most cases they are looking for assistance in implementing significant change. Many know what they’d like to change about their businesses, but aren’t sure what steps to take. What you can do to refocus your organization and change its cultural habits?

Establish a climate for changePeople resist change. How can you overcome inertia or anxiety that causes resistance? This may seem odd…let your organization feel pain. To motivate change, people need to feel that the pain of the current situation outweighs the fears and extra work generated by change. To lead your business through change, it’s essential to fully understand and articulate the reasons the status quo is unworkable. Openly discuss dissatisfaction with the things you’d like to be different. Once you have an organization that is at least ready to contemplate change, you have to provide a new direction to move toward.

Clearly communicate your vision for the future – Create a compelling picture of how things might be inspire your organization to take action. Meet with everyone whose help you’ll need – employees, suppliers, vendors, advisors and even selected customers – and discuss your plans. Encourage frank feedback of their perception of your organization’s relative strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t overlook your banker, business and legal advisors and accountant; getting them onboard early may smooth the way when inevitable stumbling blocks arise and you need their help. You may learn about hidden problems and avoid potential pitfalls. Many find this step helps them to evolve an even better plan.

Build a strong alliance of people committed to your goalsThe role of this team of internal and external resources is to help promote the vision of the future, eliminate obstacles, generate short-term successes and change habits in the company culture. In large organizations, find individuals whose opinions are respected, who agree on the vision and are committed to the process for the “duration.” In a smaller company, involve everyone.

Those who are involved in deciding what, how and when things will change are more likely to support the effort; in fact, they themselves can be won over simply through their participation!  People who don’t get a voice in what happens tend to resist change.

Develop a plan – With your team’s assistance, develop a plan with realistic goals and SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. If the change will take months to achieve, build milestones into the plan to measure progress along the way. Document your assumptions to subsequently test their validity. Develop a plan that includes quick successes; early achievements help to get doubters behind your program. Everyone likes to play on a winning team.

A common mistake is to underestimate the impact that change will have on day-to-day work. For short periods, you can ask people to put in extra effort and work longer hours, but beware of letting that become the norm. People will burn out; turnover will increase and your project may be abandoned. It’s better to move a little more slowly and realistically.

Align your organization for success – Ironically, complex changes can be easier to accomplish than small, incremental shifts. In making systemic change, organizations are forced to confront the larger issues of culture and management style that exist in every organization – systems that make incremental change difficult to accomplish. Consider compensation policies, leadership styles, technology, infrastructure and policies and procedures. Look at all the different ways that current cultural habits are reinforced and revamp those systems that encourage people to resist change.

Communicate – You cannot do too much to get your message across. Successful communications are simple, clear and easy to understand, employ metaphors, analogies and stories and are sent in many different ways, e.g., e-mail, newsletters, memos, and paycheck stuffers.

Be sincere in your commitment. Walk your talk. Lead by example. Act as you want others to act. Make sure everyone in your organization is “in the loop.” A clear vision of how the business could be gives everyone a framework to make good long-term decisions and maximizes your chance for success.

Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at

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