How to Avoid a Change Resistant Business Culture

Apr 20, 2021 1 Min Read
Driving transformation
Source:Leaderonomics Archives: Struggling with Transformation
International change expert and award-winning author of "The Power to Change" shares how to overcome organisational resistance

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that an organisation’s ability to change is business-critical. Successful change is only possible if your people are ready, willing and able to change. 88% of change initiatives fail, according to a 2016 report from Bain & Co. It is a similar story when it comes to business strategies, mergers and acquisitions – seven out of eight fail to deliver what they set out to achieve.

Why? Because leaders forget that change is all about people: not business models, not balance sheets, not systems or processes. People. Leadership today is all about leading change. Successful leaders do one special thing that the majority of their peers fail to do - they help their people to want to change.

How to create an environment for your people to embrace change and thrive

Here are the 5 steps I recommend to create a change-ready culture in your business:

1. Give your people the clarity they deserve.

Your people need complete clarity about what you are seeking to achieve, why they need to change and why success is possible. Your organisation’s purpose has never been more important; it is the anchor that will keep your people focussed and confident. In this Covid-disrupted world, businesses across the globe have been revisiting what makes them unique; what gives it the right to succeed in a world of change. KPMG reports that “CEOs are accelerating strategic priorities to arm their businesses for a new reality”[1]. BCG is imploring business leaders to “rethink the art of the possible”[2]   

2. Build an extraordinary leadership team.

Culture starts at the top. During turbulent times of change, cracks in leadership teams become glaringly apparent. CEOs will need to be ruthless when it comes to the composition and behaviour of their leadership teams; no business can afford weak links or a dysfunctional collection of individuals at the helm. You will need a genuinely collaborative team built on trust and respect; delivering shared objectives together. You will also need leaders who empower their staff and develop more leaders throughout the organisation.

3. Ensure your leaders can lead change.

The single key leadership skill for leaders at all levels is the ability to lead change. If you are not leading change, you are not leading anything; you are just managing the status quo - an option that no longer exists. To help its leaders meet the challenge during this pandemic, Astra Zeneca produced a new leadership toolkit to “help leaders develop the mindset and behaviours to navigate uncertainty, choose the most effective response to lead a team and to look ahead to the future, so we can all come out stronger on the other side.”[3]

In the ‘Leading Change’ workshops and webinars I run for Henley Business School in the UK and clients worldwide, we explore the essential ingredients for successful change, which include clarity, engaging your people to explore the implications of the change, genuine communication, and an understanding that all change is both emotional and personal. Leadership today is about helping your people to want to change.

4. Ensure your people are able to embrace change.

The success of your business depends upon the ability of your people to embrace change. They must be equipped with the skills and mindset they need to accept change and thrive. As leaders, you need to help them realise:

  • Their emotional response to change is OK. We all feel powerful emotions when confronted with major change – and this is completely normal. During one ‘Embracing Change’ workshop for the employees of a major fund manager, one of the delegates was quietly wiping away tears during the first session. During the break, she explained that she hadn’t realised the rollercoaster of emotions she was experiencing after her father had died was completely normal. Her relief was palpable.
  • We all have the power to overcome our barriers to change. Each of us erects our own unique barriers to change. But we can learn to detach from our negative thoughts, observe our emotions, reframe the way we look at life’s challenges, confront our fears – and accept change.
  • Everyone can become their own change leader. The power to change lies within us. Once we have acknowledged the fact that major change has been done to us, we need to pick ourselves up and ask ourselves the magic question: “So, what am I going to do about it?”
5. Don’t let bureaucracy get in the way.

Make sure your HR policies, management processes, incentives, financial rules and communications are all re-designed to support change - encourage informed risk-taking and innovation; enable people to try, fail and learn from the experience; and celebrate successful change. Set your people up for success.

The power to accept and embrace change is one of the most important gifts you can possibly give your people. For their own personal benefit and for the future success of your business, you can help them to learn to harness change and make it work - for everyone.

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Campbell Macpherson is a sought-after speaker and international business adviser on leadership, strategy and change who splits his time between Australia and the UK. He is a keynote speaker, Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author. His first book, The Change Catalyst (Wiley 2017), won 2018 Business Book of the Year in London. His latest book, The Power to Change (Kogan Page 2020) is out now and available from Booktopia. More information about Campbell can be found at:

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