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All on board?

Clare Roberts
HR Zone
13 October 2009
  • Managing people through change can be challenging

  • Discover your employees' attitude to change

  • Enable successful change strategies

Clare Roberts, managing consultant at PA Consulting, discusses how to assess the responsiveness to change in your organisation.

One of the challenges of delivering significant organisational change in today’s climate of economic uncertainty is the way in which people are engaged through the process of change. It is widely understood that transformational change needs the active participation of employees. We refer to this as ‘releasing’ change – engaging people around a compelling vision, involving people to build motivation and momentum and harnessing individual and organisational energy.

But in circumstances where organisations are rapidly driving through changes to reduce costs and operate more efficiently, often involving reducing headcount, it can be easy to adopt the wrong change strategy. The constant and widespread media coverage of job losses, pay cuts and restructuring, as well as what people hear from family, friends and colleagues, means that employees can feel particularly sensitive to change. The consequences of a poorly executed change programme can be significant – resistant and disengaged staff, a loss of goodwill and discretionary effort, weakening customer service and good people leaving your organisation.

How do you increase your chances of successful change?

The chances of successful change are increased by developing a change strategy that is grounded in a comprehensive understanding of employees’ attitudes and ‘responsiveness’ to the change. Therefore, the approach to implementing the change reflects the prevailing ‘mood’ of the organisation, and creates opportunities to ‘release change’ in a way that is congruent with this mood. For example, an organisation that is restructuring to maintain its competitive advantage might choose to invest in retention bonuses to ensure people don’t leave in the short term. Alternatively it might choose to invest in training and supporting its employees to deliver the changes, recognising that if they leave, at least they have enhanced their CVs in the process. The most appropriate approach can be informed by a closer understanding of how employees view the change from a personal and organisational perspective.

Ideally, gauging employees’ views should be a regular activity during the change programme. Mood fluctuates when change takes place and comparing where different stakeholder groups stand in the change cycle and addressing their needs properly can make the impact of change a positive experience for some, and a less painful experience for others. A regular ‘temperature check’ enables leaders to be more in touch with their staff as well as giving people a voice during the change.

Uncovering employees’ attitudes to change

One of the ways we help organisations measure the attitude of employees towards changes in their company is through use of our ‘Response to Change Model’ which provides information about what people are saying, feeling and thinking about the change process.

The approach focuses on the three main elements that relate to people’s experiences of change:

The first element is how people perceive both current and future states. People’s subjective responses to change depend on how they see their current and future situation, and with what clarity and effort they feel they can progress to the desired future state.

For a change programme to be successful, four factors must be present to move an employee towards a future state:

  • A ‘push’ - through dissatisfaction with the status quo

  • A ‘pull’ though an aspiration towards something better

  • A ‘path’ – to clearly guide people through the change

  • ‘Energy’ – through momentum and confidence.

The second element relates to how people experience change. The forces that people experience for or against change exist at two levels, organisational and personal. For example, a person must believe that both the organisation and they themselves have the capability to make the desired change.

The third element recognises the synergies between the personal and organisational levels. There is the ‘top-down’ engagement, where an employee believes that they will receive leadership and guidance and there is the ‘bottom-up’ engagement where an employee feels that they are involved and participate in the change.

Gaining direct feedback on employees’ responsiveness to change across these elements, and highlighting the gaps between their personal perspectives and their perception of the business transformation, enables appropriate and successful change strategies to be developed.

Clare Roberts is a Managing Consultant at PA Consulting Group

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