3 common workplace practices that lead to poor change adoption

May 29, 2023 | Change management

I have a little chuckle to myself when I start working with an organisation and they warn me that their workforce is resistant to change.

“Our people are really stuck in their ways,” they’ll say. Or: “That team always refuse to cooperate.”

The truth is people are resistant to change by nature. You don’t build a workplace culture that embraces change by hiring people who like change; If that’s your strategy, you will have a team of exactly zero.

Workplaces that appear to embrace change actually have very strong change management programs in place. In other words, there is a lot of grunt work behind what appears to have been easy change adoption.

When I work with organisations who just can’t seem to get their changes to stick, I tend to very quickly see one, or all, of these three things:

1. Wishy washy processes and policies

This is without a doubt the number one problem that presents with ineffective change adoption. People won’t do what they’re ‘supposed’ to do if it’s unclear exactly what is expected of them. About 50 percent of the time this problem is underpinned by an assumption that people will intrinsically know what they should do. If this were accurate, relationship counsellors would be out of a job. The other 50 percent of the time that the problem of vague (or completely lacking) processes arise, it’s because an organisation simply hasn’t thought about how they want things done in enough detail.

Common signs your organisation has this problem: One team or person in an organisation consistently complaining that another team isn’t doing something ‘the right way’. When a problem is whole-team centric, it generally quickly emerges that a company policy for ‘the thing’ not being undertaken doesn’t exist, is vague, or is outdated.

How to fix it: Get representatives of all teams involved in the process in a room, and ask them how they perform that process, and why they do things the way they do. The gaps or inconsistencies will quickly present themselves. Processes and policies need to be tested with all teams involved to make sure they can actually be successfully adopted (for example, if a call centre doesn’t have access to the system where five other teams are making compliance notes, and you want the call centre to make notes that everyone can read, you have a gap in your process. That may seem obvious but it’s a real life example!).

And finally, never underestimate how clearly and simply a process needs to be documented (yes, written down and stored somewhere, not just verbally communicated). Use screenshots and plain English, and test your procedures and policies with the most junior and inexperienced staff to make sure anyone can follow them.

2.Lack of communications

This is the second most common problem I see when an organisation says they can’t make their changes stick.
I have walked into organisations who think they need a complex workplace culture change program, when all they really needed was to send a few emails from the right people, at the right time.

This problem commonly presents for three reasons: 1. An organisation assumes their people will just know what to do (this tends to be the same workplace culture that presents with vague and wishy washy processes) 2. An organisation drastically underestimates how frequently they need to communicate (this is the organisation who doesn’t use their intranet or distribute any form of regular newsletter or have any form of town hall), and 3 – this is the big one –

More often than not, a lack of communication arises due to capacity issues; Leaders and managers are not properly resourced or managing their time effectively to send important communications and talk to their teams. This leads to problems that require more time and resourcing, such as complaint handling or poor workplace culture, taking leaders and managers off the important tasks that would propel the organisation forward.

Communications is the foundation of a successful change management program. Good communication is concise, simple, and timely. Organisations tend to understand what concise and simple look like in practice; It’s the ‘timely’ part that they trip up on. Timely communications happen before your people start asking questions and before they hear about the change from a source other than their manager or the organisation’s leader. Timely communications tend to be a lot more frequent than organisations might assume.

Common signs your organisation has this problem: A widespread lack of buy-in about the change is a tell-tale sign of a lack of communication.

How to fix it: Communicate early, and from the top. If it’s too late to communicate early because you’ve already missed that train, It’s time to organise communications from the top down that sets a compelling ‘why’ for the change, followed quickly by a communications from team managers to their teams, explaining what the change will mean for that team and how they’ll be supported.

3.Poor, or completely absent, managerial oversight, involvement and accountability

Having come out of finance projects at a time of huge reform to instil greater accountability in all levels of management, I am generally astounded when I work with an organisation and their managers are absent from processes or performance related conversations.

I rarely find that managers themselves are reluctant to have more oversight, it’s more that an organisation doesn’t have effective strategies in place to leverage their managers.

Leveraging managers in relation to change management isn’t about micromanagement; Managers should be utilised to translate to their teams what the changes will mean for them, and to assist with monitoring and reporting. Good managerial oversight also means that if there is a conversation to be had with someone about performance, it will be had with their manager.

Common signs your organisation has this problem: Managers from one team asking members of another team to follow policies and practices. Senior leaders directly emailing monitoring reports to individuals (rather than those reports cascaded down via an individual’s manager).

How to fix it: Involve managers not only in decision-making about processes and policies that impact their team, but also decisions about monitoring and reporting activities. Managers need to own their team’s outcomes. Agree with managers how their team’s performance will be measured, and work with them to set a regular reporting cadence. Managers should sit in the middle of monitoring and reporting activities; They are the conduit to individuals being monitored and to senior leaders.

Does your organisation struggle with change embedment? Get in touch to begin a change management audit and coaching.