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OMGs:  Leaders’ Barriers to Successful Transformations

By definition, transformation is about moving forward, regardless of today’s realities. These OMGs are key barriers I hear consistently when moving leaders through transformations. My work represents the future reality, which is different from today. One’s success in the future may not be the same as current success, which creates fear and avoidance.

These barriers cross all areas of transformation resistance: political and cultural, organizational, financial, and most importantly, people-related. These OMGs speak to the heart of what makes transformations fail in organizations.

OMG—You get fired all the time! (The people are thinking: “I don’t want to change. I like the way it is today. I benefit from the way it is today.”) This barrier comes from people resisting both change and the need to work together differently, across boundaries, to move forward. They are resisting movement, period.

In many organizations, change leadership is positioned many layers deep, at which point it becomes a technical exercise, not a true commitment by the leaders to successfully move forward. Having the change owner at the leader’s table is perceived to be bothersome. (“We’ll do what we have to; just leave us alone.”)

OMG—That’s impossible: all those egos! (The people are thinking: “I’m not changing. I don’t have to change. You have to change, not me.”) This barrier is about the challenge some leaders face in being a follower and letting others lead. It is about the inability to reframe the positional power they have today and change for tomorrow.

OMG—No one will hire you! (The people are thinking: “You are not strategic. You’re just a change person; you don’t understand our needs. We don’t need to change. Changing is not important. I know lots of companies that need what you are describing, but they won’t hire you.)

This barrier speaks directly to the lack of desire, and the lack of motivation, to change. If change is not important enough to be led from the top, it is not important enough for the leaders to do together. A voice and face of change is not desired in the organization.

OMG—You are the sand in the oyster! (The people are thinking: “You are irritating me. You are bothering me. If we get rid of the noisy person, that annoying person trying to make us change, we can go back to being the way we are. We can get back to doing today’s important work. We will worry about tomorrow when it gets here. We will make pearls then”.) This barrier illustrates that the persistent pressure to move forward can be unsettling. The message spoken or unsaid is just go away! Leave us alone! We want to be successful today, not tomorrow.

A successful transformation occurs when the leaders and the organization can be | will be | are positioned to connect the new ways with the old work, reframe for the future, and commit to the changes moving forward. Ultimately, transformations fail for three key reasons: the power of the people is disregarded, the need for cross-boundary decisions is ignored, and transformational change is seen as once and done.

As a leader, what are you doing in your organization to ensure your transformation is successful? Have you encountered these barriers? Are you actively managing through them? Have you been able to move others beyond the barriers to shared success?

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