Thursday, February 16, 2017

Overcoming the Barriers to Organizational Change

The Difficulties of Organizational Change
Change is difficult to bring about. We find comfort in routine and tradition, and so we often fight against it. Just as people resist change so do organizations. But why do so many organizations fail to successfully change? A key reason is that many organizations have dysfunctional cultures that hinder their ability to adapt (Rosenberg & Mosca, 2011). There is often a lack of trust between the employees and the management trying to implement the change. Without this trust there is not likely to be a shared commitment to the change being made. With no shared vision across the organization, change has little chance of succeeding.

Nonprofit organizations also face additional challenges that typical companies do not. Their reliance on outside sources of funding means that they often must consider a vast array of stakeholders (Renz, 2016). This makes undergoing significant changes rather difficult and potentially risky, as donors may not agree with the changes in the organizations direction. Furthermore, funding is often provided mainly for program support, thereby limiting investment in innovation and proactive solutions (Gowdy, Hildebrand, La Piana, & Campos, 2009). While this may make change seem extremely difficult, there is still hope. Below are some tips that will help any nonprofit organization respond and adapt in a more efficient manner.

Overcoming Barriers to Change
Empower employees:
            Leaders of high performing organizations focus on employee empowerment and inclusion (Moynihan, Pandey, & Wright 2014). While changes designed by only a few individuals are often not successful, changes designed by a broad group of employees are often much more well received (Blank, 2016). An organization looking to undergo significant shifts will do well to receive input from a wide spectrum of its workers. Tools such as consensus decision making are beneficial because they give employees a sense of inclusion and value to the organization.

Create a Shared Vision:
            Organizational change is most likely to work if there exist a shared vision across employees (Moynihan, Pandey, & Wright 2014). This means that the organization’s leaders must be able to clearly articulate their goals and how they will arrive at them. As described above, empowering employees will help them be committed to the organizational vision. Leaders of a nonprofit must also reach out to donors and volunteers, making sure they understand the direction of the organization and its purpose for changing.

Have a Flexible Strategy:
            Nonprofits resource-dependent nature puts them in a precarious position when attempting to undergo major changes. Using strategic intent, top managers should be specific about the “ends” but not so specific about the “means” (Hamel & Prahalad, 1989). This means that managers should have a flexible strategy when it comes to achieving the organization’s final goals. Not only does this allow the organization to navigate around unforeseen contingencies, but it may also encourage more innovation and creativity (Hamel & Prahalad, 1989).

Examine Potentials for Collaboration:
            Leaders of nonprofits should always be open to the idea of collaboration and working as part of a network. This can be especially useful for struggling organizations that may lack the necessary internal capacity to achieve their goals on their own (Renz, 2016). Technological development has increased the potential effectiveness and ease of collaboration exponentially in recent years as well (Gowdy et al, 2009), giving managers another reason to consider working in networks.

Train Strong Leaders:
            Leadership plays a huge role in determining how successfully an organization can make difficult transitions (Cameron, 1991). Transformational leaders are those who are the most adept at creating change. They have been shown to instill developmental cultures in their organizations, allowing employees to be more creative and adaptable (Pandey, Coursey, & Moynihan, 2007). Importantly the characteristics of transformational leadership are highly trainable (Cameron, 1991). Organizations should ensure that those who are given leadership positions have been trained in consistency with the transformational leadership model, rather than other less effective leadership models such as the transactional leadership model.


Blank, R. (2016). Implementing Change in Big Public Institutions. Public Administration Review, 76, 2, 217-218.

Cameron, K. (1991). Transformational Leadership. In Whetten, D.A. & Cameron, K.S. (Eds). Developing Management Skills (1-26). New York: Harper Collins.

Gowdy, H., Hildebrand, A., La Piana, D., & Campos, M. M. (2009). Convergence: How five trends will reshape the social sector. The James Irvine Foundation.

Hamel, G., & Prahalad, C. K. (1989). Strategic intent. Harvard Business Review. 63-76.

Moynihan, D., Pandey, S., & Wright, B. (2014). Transformational Leadership in the Public Sector: Empirical Evidence of Its Effects. In Yogesh K. Dwivedi, Mahmud A. Shareef, Sanjay K. Pandey, and Vinod Kumar (87-105). Public Administration Reformation Market Demand from Public Organizations: New York: Routledge.

Pandey, S. K., Coursey, D. H., & Moynihan, D. P. (2007). Organizational effectiveness and bureaucratic red tape: A multimethod study. Public Performance & Management Review30(3), 398-425.
Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Rosenberg, S., & Mosca, J. (2011). Breaking down the barriers to organizational change. International Journal of Management and Information Systems15(3), 139.

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