Why is it so hard to change?

By Martin Egerström

Why is it so hard to change?

Advancing technology and globalisation has evened out the playing field in most industries. There are now new ways to fund start-up investment, technology and knowledge is accessible for the masses, and reaching a global audience has never been easier (if you have done your homework right). So why is it so difficult for most large companies to take advantage of this brave new world?

If you work in a large enterprise today, chances are that your company in the past has been part of an exclusive community (with high barriers of entry), where a few financially strong players have been competing for the loyalty of the target group. When outside conditions have changed in the past, they have done so at a manageable and slow pace. You have made minor adaptations when needed over the years and stayed pretty much on course with a secure market position. 

Today, however, when everyone is invited to play the game, you are hit by new competition and development at a completely different speed than before, and from all over the world. Your target group changes behaviour much faster, and their loyalty to a brand disappears in a heartbeat if someone else better caters to their needs.


If you stay tuned and still are an agile, flexible and fast moving company where all co-workers work with a sense of urgency to an identified and clearly stated opportunity, these new times offers you great new possibilities.

Chances are, though, that you like most other companies after having past a successful start-up phase have grown and become a hierarchy based and management driven company. Focus is on planning, budgeting, and optimizing what you know best. All co-workers know what to do each day and they mostly do it well. You have departments and divisions, and on top a competent management team. And this setup is absolutely necessary of course, otherwise chaos will reign.

The problem is that this typical company system has great difficulties when it comes to adapting and seizing new opportunities that the new playing field offers. Opportunities that will change to threats if you let them pass to someone else to grab. Someone more on their toes and with the drive and focus to develop as fast as your company once did during its start-up phase.

So where lays these difficulties in a typical company?


Typically the strongest force working against you is complacency (‘a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievement’). 

For one, most of us naturally cling to our habits and resist change unless it is very clear why we should change and what we will gain from it. We feel comfortable with what we know and know how to do well.

In addition, and even more worrying, is when the company as a whole has become complacent. With a proven track record of success and a strong position in your industry things seems to go just fine. They have done so for years or even decades. And they probably are, actually. For now. 

But with the world being as it is today, there is probably a best before-date on the continuous success if you don’t have enough tentacles observing what is going on outside your own industry bubble.

And when the leaders of the company identify a new great opportunity that clearly (at least to them) needs to be seized, and seized quickly, it is simply not enough to just appoint a team to run a change implementation project, be it an internal team or an external team of consultants, and expect that the whole organisation will follow along. You need much more powerful forces to successfully implement change in your organisation. 

In a series of posts I will share observations and thoughts on this subject and what can be done to break through complacency and accomplish successful change. Meanwhile, John P. Kotter’s books Leading Change, A Sense of Urgency and Accelerate are great sources to explore this matter.

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Martin Egerström
Project Manager at Zooma 2005-2022.
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