UX Strategy: What's blocking change? Organizational barriers.

Summary: Design will help your organization evolve from the current to the future state, but you don't stand a chance of success if you're not designing to overcome the embedded barriers to that change.

Last Fall, I worked with a financial services firm that wanted its employees to stop storing sensitive, confidential files on their laptops. And it wasn’t the typical “confidential” data most employers want to keep safe. (Oh noes. Someone will discover the redesigned home page includes a carousel!) For financial services firms, if confidential data leaks, someone can go to jail for insider trading.

To fix this, they decided they would force employees to store their files in a secure cloud. Only, they didn’t have a secure cloud. Not having a secure cloud was an example of a technological barrier.

While drivers represent forces that push your organization to change, a barrier represents an opposing force that prevents change. A barrier is the answer to the question: why hasn't your organization changed on its own?

Four types of organizational barriers

Alongside  technological barriers, you can divide the forces that act as barriers into four groups:

  1. Technology barriers
  2. Cultural barriers
  3. Process barriers
  4. People barriers

Cultural barriers to change

In addition to not having a secure cloud, this same financial services firm faced a cultural barrier. Employees didn’t believe a system other than their laptops would be secure. This belief was embedded into the firm’s culture. Even if they had a secure cloud, even if they overcame the technological barrier, the employees still wouldn’t move their sensitive files to the server because they believed the files would be less secure.

Process barriers to change

One of the reasons that contributed to this lack of trust was that the firm had no process for managing security. Why would they?  When sensitive files were kept on personal laptops, individual employees used personal, ad hoc processes for providing access to clients and others. Lacking a way to determine, assign, and understand security on files was a process barrier that prevented the organization from moving to a secure cloud. 

People barriers to change

The last type of barrier has to with people themselves. Like a technological barrier, not having the right people may prevent an organization from changing. A large IT integrator I worked with last winter wanted to move from internal enterprise applications to consumer, digital marketing. However, their large team only featured one member with the online marketing chops to really make it work. The company needed more people with digital strategy skills. They had a people barrier. Now, you can hire or train people to overcome people barriers, but the fundamental barrier is you don’t have the people you need.

Identifying Barriers to Change

To identify the barriers that prevent your organization from changing, you ask, what is preventing us from changing now? While technological barriers often jump right out, you can make sure you’ve fully examined the landscape of possible barriers by making sure you explore whether or not you’ve identified any cultural, process, or people barriers that also prevent your organization from evolving into its future state. A barrier is any organizational force that hampers change. Keep asking why you haven't changed until you feel you've identified all of the key barriers.

Design will help your organization evolve from the current to the future state, but you don't stand a chance of success if you're not designing to overcome the embedded barriers to that change.

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