More often than not, my experience has demonstrated that organizations (and the people within them) grow frustrated with the relative inability to make impactful change. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is this notion of ‘organizational inertia.’

Applying one of the first physics lessons we learned, inertia is when “an object continues to do whatever it happens to be doing unless a force is exerted upon it.” In the context of the organization, this same concept is applied. In order to make meaningful change happen, the organization must either exert a greater force in the opposite direction, or exert a force that changes the direction of the organization.

There are a multitude of sources of organizational inertia. Fear of change, engrained business processes and lack of leadership are all common situations that keep an organization on the same trajectory. For a quick read on the common sources of organizational inertia, read the following by Steve Weissman. I want to focus on the easiest aspect – I don’t know where to start.

Overcoming Organizational Inertia – Five Places to Start

  1. Align with a bigger goal – Build an understanding of what the leaders of your organization are trying to accomplish. Perhaps it’s tackling a new market, it could be driving efficiency or delivering a better customer experience. Putting context around the direction of organizational change will help build support for the change. Putting it simply, what’s important to my boss is important to me.
  2. Ask your customers – Uncovering those customer challenges that are in need of an adjustment is always a great place to start. Find out from a customer what pain they experience in dealing with your company. It’s likely that if one customer is experiencing this pain, others are as well. You’ll likely get some attention from senior leadership and grow support for change if you can demonstrate your customers are less-than-pleased with how your organization is performing.
  3. Start small – You don’t need to solve all the problems in one big transformation program. Take what you’ve learned an apply it to one small aspect that you’re closely involved with. Building on a small success within your own sphere of influence can significantly impact larger-scale change down the road. In fact, trying to begin with an enterprise-wide change will likely lead to continued inertia rather than overcoming it.
  4. Lose the fear – In many instances, individuals are afraid of ‘upsetting the apple cart.’ To effectively lead change, you must overcome the fear of change. Implementing improved processes or delivering a better customer experience requires letting go of the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Building support, doing your research and believing in a better tomorrow requires you let go of the present and lead change – whether it’s uncomfortable or not.
  5. Try something, try anything – Sometimes it only takes a small change, regardless of context to demonstrate there is a better way. Innovation can happen by accident. Simply take a look at the Post-It Note. Knowing a problem exists is sometimes good enough to initiate a change. If you’re not sure where to start – maybe you should just start!

Exerting a force to affect change will eventually overcome inertia. Persistence is key. Having the belief that you can overcome organizational inertia is where all change originates. You must believe you have the power and influence to lead change.

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