8 Obstacles to Change and How to Overcome Them

Most of us recognize that higher ed is changing. A lot. And on the web, our users’ expectations, needs, and wants are changing at a pace that’s tough to keep up with, let alone get ahead of. These changes to our universe mean that we must also change as a web team (everyone who contributes to Bethel’s site included). We must adapt. We need to get better, faster, more responsive.

Change is scary and painful. It takes us out of our routines and comfort zones and into uncharted territory. It makes us feel uncertain, insecure, and (quite frankly) a little bit dumb.

But the difficulty inherent in change doesn’t give us an excuse to avoid it, or to ignore the fact that change is often necessary.

I recently finished reading former Harvard Business School professor John Kotter’s Leading Change. In the book, Kotter outlines the 8 obstacles we’ll face anytime we try to make changes. He then uses case studies, personal experiences, and well-known examples to illustrate the consequences of ignoring these obstacles and to offer practical advice for navigating through them.

Leading Change got me thinking about the change efforts I face every day in my web work here at Bethel, and what I can do to be a part of the solution instead of becoming a potential roadblock.

The obstacles to change:

1. Complacency

For change to happen, everyone involved has to believe that change is needed. So often, we get stuck in our routines and processes that have worked for years and we catch “this is the way it’s done”-itis. We accept the status quo.

This is how we write emails.

This is what our website looks like.

This form is good enough.

But in today’s higher ed climate I need to remind myself that “good enough” is rarely good enough. Our users call for our absolute best. To deliver our best, we need to be willing to change. And before anything can change we all need to have a sense of urgency.

2. Lack of power

This is one I’m sure we all recognize. We know a change is needed. We’ve done the research, developed the strategy, and come up with a process to get it done. But when it comes time to execute we realize that we have little (if any) support.

3. Lack of vision

A lot of times we’ll jump into new projects or try to change things without taking the time at the beginning to create a vision. What’s the change we’re making? Why? What are we hoping for? A lack of vision means that we don’t have any direction, and we’ll quickly lose sight of where we’re trying to go. Plus, the people we’re asking to change won’t have any reason to support us or buy in.

4. Failing to communicate the vision

You’ve created your vision. Great. Dodged that pothole. What do you do with it? Let it sit in your Google Drive to collect (virtual) dust? That doesn’t do much good, does it? To provide our teammates with direction and give them a reason to buy in, it’s not enough to have a vision. We need to share it.

5. Letting obstacles get in the way

Every project has obstacles. That’s just reality. And projects that call for change have even more obstacles than normal because change is hard. You’ll never make changes if you let these obstacles stop you. If you believe in your change and want to see it succeed, you must be relentless.

6. Failing to create short-term wins

When you’re trying to make changes, the big picture is important. Where are we and where do we want to end up?

But it’s a long, hard road from here to there. And to stay motivated and focused we need some wins in the middle. We need reasons to celebrate, signs of success, affirmation that all our efforts are worthwhile. Think of it as stopping for ice cream in the middle of a family road trip.

Failing to create short-term wins will leave us all exhausted and discouraged.

7. Declaring victory too soon

When is a change effort done? If you’re changing your email strategy, are you done when the first new email is sent?

Don’t even think about it. Real change runs deep. The job isn’t done until the change becomes the reality. When it’s ingrained in your processes and your projects to the point that the new way is second nature.

When it’s no longer the “new email strategy,” but just the “email strategy.”

8. Ignoring organizational culture

Now that the new way is accepted as business as usual, it needs to become a part of how we operate and how we think. It needs to become part of our culture, part of our identity and story. Failing to appreciate organizational culture and failing to anchor our change efforts in the culture will lead to regression. We’ll use the new process while it’s fresh in our minds, but what about 6 months from now? A year? Five years?

There you have it. 8 obstacles. It’s a bit overwhelming.

But there is hope. Change is possible. And in my next 8 posts I’ll dig into each of these obstacles and do my best to offer some tips and strategies (some that we’ve used, some aspirational) for leading change.