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'Formal, systematic processes' are the secrets to effective change management programmes, finds global Towers Watson Study

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Companies that manage change effectively are more likely to have a formal, systematic process and a dedicated staff that includes internal communicators compared to organisations that manage change less well, according to research by Towers Watson.

The research, from Towers Watson's Change and Communication ROI Study, identified six activities - leading, measuring, communicating, involving, learning and sustaining - that have a significant impact on a company's overall success in managing change.

The Towers Watson study found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of companies with the best change management practices follow a formal, systematic process compared with just 14% of companies with low change effectiveness. Additionally, 45% of respondents with high change effectiveness have a staff dedicated to change management efforts versus just 16% with a lower level of change effectiveness.

According to the study, leadership activities, which include executive sponsorship for organisational change, developing a clear vision of desired organisational change, creating an integrated communication and change management strategy, and creating strong employee motivation for making organisational change, have the most influence in the overall success of an organisation's change.

More than eight out of 10 (84%) highly effective companies have a clear vision of what their organisational change is intended to achieve, compared with just 19% of companies with low change effectiveness. Notably, both senior leaders and communication and change management professionals have an important role to play in these leading activities.

Measuring activities were also among the top drivers of change success. More than three quarters (76%) of highly effective companies set clear, measurable goals up front for the impact of changes, compared with just 14% of low-effectiveness companies. Just under three-quarters (73%) of highly effective companies measure their progress against goals, versus 12% of companies with low-change-effectiveness practices.

The study also found that effective companies incorporate programs to sustain the positive effects of change over time. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of highly effective companies continue to exhibit new behaviours and use new skills after changes have been made, compared with fewer than one-in-ten (8%) of low-effectiveness companies.

Roughly two-thirds of highly effective companies create a sense of co-ownership about organisational change initiatives and develop support from enough employees for change initiatives to succeed, compared with one in 10 low-effectiveness companies.

More than four out of five (83%) respondents reported that they train managers in the area of change management, but only 36% find the training effective.

Effective communication is an important element of change management and, if both are done well, can significantly impact financial performance. Companies highly effective at both communication and other change management activities are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers as companies that are not highly effective in either area. Phil Merrell, Towers Watson's UK director of change management, said: "When it comes to managing major organisational change, many companies have a difficult time getting it right.

"In fact, our research shows that less than half stay on schedule, come in on budget, or hold people accountable for deadlines. Our research found that businesses went through an average of three major changes in the past two years and that effective change management practices can have a major impact on the bottom line, so there is plenty of reason to share how the best organisations manage change.

"Organisational change is a continuous reality. Regardless of the type of change an organisation experiences or where it is located, the critical change activities remain constant. Organisations that get the leading, measuring and sustaining activities right will be the ones that experience the greatest success." The 2011-2012 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Study includes responses from 604 organisations in various industries from around the world.