Admiring the beautiful changing seasons around Wiltshire has inspired me to reflect on managing change in the workplace. Over the years, I have supported organisations handling varied change programmes, from major restructures, mergers and acquisitions to establishing new services and reshaping culture and values. In each case, the impetus for change has been different: whether externally driven through changes to funding, legislation or new competition, or internally to align with growth plans or to a need to review behaviours.

However, in each case, common success factors include a shared understanding of the need to change and the scope and timescales of the project, clear communication and involvement with internal and external stakeholders and consideration to cultural issues. 

According to PWC’s Strategy & Global Culture and Change Management Survey 2013, the primary obstacle for implementing a successful change programme is “change fatigue”, a dynamic which comes into play when people are asked to make too many changes at once. This is why the scoping stage is essential, together with a more detailed breakdown of tasks and timescales, ensuring that you are not asking too much of a single individual or department at any one time. Take a strategic view to prioritising tasks and competing agendas.  

It’s pretty obvious that communication is going to be important. But a “one size fits all” approach is not going to suit everyone. Whilst some people are quick to get excited about the opportunities that change can present, others find change scary and are anxious about how it will impact them. Identify the key people who you need to get on board early to help with communications and reassuring others. Allow time for people to talk to you individually as many people will not be comfortable with asking questions in an open forum. Ensure you take professional advice on any formal consultation processes so these are handled sensitively and consistently in line with legislation and internal procedures. And finally remember that people are rarely predictable – change unleashes various emotions but taking time to understand concerns will enable you to find out what the underlying issues are and work towards a solution.

It’s also important to plan your external communications from the outset – how do you want the change to be perceived externally? What is the impact likely to be for your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders and how can you get them on board? What is the impact of the change on your brand? If you are not proactive, clear and timely with your communications, people will start to fill in the blanks for themselves (same goes for your staff).

Culture is also critical to a successful implementation but too often is overlooked, probably because it is harder to define. Unlike harmonising processes or executing a communications plan, its outcomes are less tangible. Sometimes you will proactively want to refresh the culture as part of the change programme; in other instances, a positive company culture acts as a sort of invisible glue which binds people to the organisation’s values and purpose and incorporates high standards of behaviour and trust that you don’t want to risk damaging. If the change programme brings together different organisations or teams, consideration must be given to the cultural fit and how these can be aligned whilst retaining what makes them special. 84% of business leaders say that organisational culture is critical to business success, with 60% stating it is more important than strategy or operating model*, but it rarely gets the same level of focus. The risks of getting cultural fit wrong include losing key members of staff, low morale, negative behaviours and impact on customer service and productivity.

It’s said that “the only constant is change.” If you are planning a change programme in your organisation, some useful sources of further information are below. Or if you would like any hands-on support with managing change processes, contact me at Kathryn Roynon HR & Training Consultancy on 01249 701486.

* source: PWC’s Strategy & Global Culture and Change Management Survey 2013