What Makes Change So Difficult?

The difficulty with making change is not so much a lack of willingness, as it is a lack of understanding of the obstacles that prevent change. Despite the tremendous energy many executives expend trying to do what needs to be done, most find themselves at a loss trying to balance the ever-increasing demands placed on them, both in and outside the workplace.

Most executives involved in organizational change are experiencing serious personal struggles that impact their performance. Results from a recently completed study of over 2,500 executives show that the majority are feeling the pressure.

Participants were measured against 56 different scales selected to identify how their beliefs and values influence their capacity for managing in a changing and innovative environment. Over 80% percent of the executives involved scored “very good” (80% or higher) in their capacity for basic management capacities like common sense thinking, organization, doing things right, persistence, and their ability to come up with good answers.

However, when it came to their readiness to make the personal changes necessary for implementing change in their organizations, the results were much different. Findings show that well over 60% of these executives:

  • are experiencing dissatisfaction and frustration in their roles,
  • set goals that are either unchallenging or unrealistic,
  • feel they must be in complete control to be okay,
  • experience stress that can adversely affect their performance.

Helping people accept the real challenges of doing things they’ve never done before is a critical and often overlooked part of the process of building a successful, enjoyable and productive workplace. The current reality is that the increasing pressures for doing more with less are having a major impact on most executives.

These results suggest the need for a serious look at their implications. Given the high percentage of executives experiencing these problems, organizations need to develop a better understanding of the potential damage that results from each of these critical issues.

Dissatisfaction and frustration in their roles
While everyone studied was “successful” in terms of status and income, most were in the process of reexamining how they were spending their lives. Findings show that a majority felt that their lives weren’t as fulfilling and rewarding as they wanted them to be. Many questioned if what they were doing had a positive and useful value. In general, they felt like they couldn’t get what they wanted, what they needed, and/or what they thought they should have to meet their expectations.

Feel they must be in complete control to be okay
Despite the fact that these executives know that change was needed, most were uncertain about which direction to take. Their uncertainty often resulted in inconsistent decisions and/or a lack of self-confidence. In many cases, people made decisions with a focus on minimizing conflict, rather than on achieving goals. In their attempts to stay in control, executives tended to err either by taking on too much responsibility or by avoiding responsibility that could lead to failure. Either way, a potential hazard for their organization.

Set goals that are either unchallenging or unrealistic
In their attempts to make things better, executives found themselves trying one solution after another, looking for the “perfect” answer. They felt caught between what they believed must be done and what they felt could be done. Often they shifted between goals that were either unreachable or did not demand the best from themselves. Study results show that less than 20% of executives feel comfortably confident they are able to achieve what they should.

Experience stress to the point that it can affect performance
Conflicting responsibilities for their work, family, friends, and for themselves result in a great deal of confusion. Nearly 85% of the studied executives were strongly driven by the many “shoulds and oughts” they had adopted while growing up. Despite the personal confusion and conflict, these old beliefs cause for them now, most were unaware of the impact their thought patterns were having on their well-being. Much of the stress executives are experiencing results from the great differences that exist between what they think “is” happening and what they think “should” be happening in their lives and in the world around them.

Values and beliefs influence performance
Increasing demands for improved performance, fear, and resistance to change, concerns over job security, a 50% divorce rate, and the need to care for children and elderly parents are all having a growing impact on the personal and work lives of executives. Most question their ability to meet both the increasing challenges of their careers and their desire for a fulfilling personal life. It is grossly unrealistic to expect executives to “just get the job done” without attending to the potential implications of the pressures resulting from these conflicting demands.

In a time when many companies are asking their executives to do more with less, paying more attention to human concerns may become a necessary, rather than a “nice” thing to do. Failure to take into account the impact of the pressure that conflicting beliefs and values have on executives can undermine the tremendous efforts so many American companies are making to improve their performance.

Increased stress, or resistance to change and challenge, can be expected reactions when organizations don’t provide realistic strategies for helping their executives find effective ways to be successful. Executives in many organizations are realizing that their organizations can’t change unless they do. But the personal challenge of making the right decisions and taking the most effective actions isn’t always clear.

In hundreds of follow-up coaching sessions, we discovered that once executives understand and accept how their personal beliefs and values impact them, they were able to make more realistic and healthy decisions resulting in greater personal accomplishment and satisfaction. When personal feedback was provided, executives could identify the specific issues that were undermining their performance.


Harvey Schoof is a founding partner of Axiogenics, LLC, an international coach training organization. He’s known as an expert in the science of applied Axiology, training coaches across North America, Europe, and Australia. As a consultant and coach, Harvey has worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of managers for 35+ years sharing his insights to assist them in becoming more “valuegenic” in their personal and professional lives.

Axiogenics LLC | Insight Consulting | Author