· 2 min read · Features

Minimising the downsides of change


Organisational change is a difficult process at best, and can't succeed without company-wide buy-in. Jane Lewis, director of Hidden Insights explains how to make it as painless as possible.

Anyone who’s ever tried to create change will have – at some point – reached for the headache tablets. The truth is, creating change in any organisation can be difficult and trying at times. Staff may be reluctant and people can feel insecure and exposed. Change never happens overnight so these feelings stretch on and on, especially where it seems to be done in compartments: Process change; structural change; culture change. 

Change management is at the heart of HR’s role and it is the department’s responsibility to balance the desired business outcomes and management expectations with an understanding of the ‘human factor’. By taking the lead on this, HR has a vital role in creating an environment for success. 

What many change projects leave out 

Most change projects patch together process change and culture change, but fail to grasp the ‘human factor’ needed to create a sustainable, engaging transition that feels rewarding and enjoyable. People go through many emotions during a period of change. Too often, change programmes bring in the emotional, people dimension after the process has started and towards the end of the project. This is too little, too late and doesn’t create the desired change in behaviour at all levels to deliver business results. 

Integrating the human factor 

A 2008 survey by McKinsey of 3,199 executives around the world found that only one in three change projects succeeded. The failure was attributed to the ‘people factor’. People need to buy into the change programme; they need to engage with it, and embrace it. Critically, they need to be drawn into the process from the start. HR plays a vital role in enabling this. And it’s not just about communications and surveys. 

Work with frontline staff for change success

To create successful change, frontline staff must feel they are instrumental in influencing the direction of change. Including them reduces uncertainty and fear. Change introduced from the outside in, and top-down is likely to be misunderstood and resisted.   

HR can support managers to adopt facilitative, inclusive ways of working with the frontline. Staff and leaders should work together in defining the desired outcomes from all perspectives, understanding priorities, and in finding the appropriate course of change to generate success. We have found that this is an opportunity to teach people that data can be their friend.

To overcome barriers to change, it is also important to realise that the skills, capabilities and wisdom needed to address the transformation agenda successfully – and solve many of the seemingly intractable problems within your organisation – can be found internally.   

Frontline staff will already have easy-to-implement, cost-efficient and effective ideas of how to reach the desired change. These people, who are already addressing the problems effectively, are 'positive deviants' whose successful practices and enabling behaviours can be rolled out across the organisation, within existing resources.

Only when we start listening do we find success 

The idea of human and social capital is more than an accounting concept – HR must take the lead on ensuring that the skills and abilities, goodwill and commitment of your people is optimised for a complex and rapidly changing world. To be a true business partner, HR must provide the support for this to happen. 

Jane Lewis is a director at Hidden Insights Europe Ltd and is also programme director of the Change Leaders, a global network of change practitioners.