Cultural and emotional barriers which cause resistance to change

26th April 2021 |   Barbara Crane

In the current ever-changing corporate world perennial adaptability is the key to sustainability and culture has become the conceptual foundation which should embrace ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity to ensure organisational success. Culture is not just mandated but it should be shaped at every level of the organisation and “even without a direct mandate from the top, people with passion, persistence and courage, who dare to challenge the system and come up with new and innovative solutions to new and old problems, can make – and are making – huge differences in companies around the world.” (Bambach, Earls, Fiandaca & Morrison, 2018:71)

Change, when enabled, is fostered by creativity and the lack of such a conducive environment leads to inertia, cynicism and stagnation. What can organisations do to nurture emotional connection and engagement throughout transition and disruption? Can leaders inspire change when they have not gone through “change” themselves? Organisational transformation – even on a smaller and progressive scale – cannot happen if individuals are not prepared to unlearn, relearn and reapply their competence in way they never thought possible.

Especially when certainties are removed, human beings hold on to other familiar aspects, as familiarity provides comfort. Routine provides comfort but hinders fulfilment. I started my research and project with my own view of how these concepts apply to leadership and I ended up with a view which opposed my starting point.

I will demonstrate how resistance is caused by anxiety and “fear of loss”, expressed by a conditioned mind which comes to the realisation that it is unfulfilled. I explain that, in order to change, one has to disrupt oneself and challenge oneself constantly.

Literature review

“The true measure of leadership is to confront the anxiety of the people of their time.”

This quote by Jacinda Ardern, current Prime Minister of New Zealand, beautifully summarises the essence of leadership and reveals a depth in leadership qualities only acknowledged and explored by a few. Through introspective and autoethnographic work on developing and applying the ability to understand the emotions which lead to actions and behaviours, I aim to better understand which skills need to be acquired to embrace change and understand why, despite the inevitable, change is still often met with resistance.

As Mary Uhl-Bien (2020) states, the first step required is “normalising complexity and helping people understand that complexity is (and always has been) all around us and is not going away.” As part of this process, my aim is to understand the skills modern leadership requires to instil confidence and inspire people and what else motivates individuals to embrace, or at least accept, change within the corporate environment. This exercise should also manifest the opposite end of the scale: what causes inertia, resistance or cynical acceptance and prevents people from embracing change.

head of financial services industry and digital natives at Google Cloud

Barbara Crane’s is head of financial services industry and digital natives (SG/MY), Google Cloud, based in Singapore. Her background is corporate and investment banking, having worked across business and operations for 16 years at HSBC, BNPP and RBS in Europe and Asia, covering multiple asset classes. During the past six years, she has been working on transformational and strategic partnerships, especially with large enterprises, enabling their adoption of technology.