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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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What stops intentional change from succeeding?

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Intentional change is hard to implement, measure and quantify. It’s one of the most difficult challenges facing HR. Yet change is inevitable. If businesses are to respond quickly enough to the future business landscape, they must become comfortable with change management. The first step is understanding what drives intentional change and where these align with the business in question – if HR does not understand the main agents and inhibitors of change then they will find it difficult to implement change efficiently.

Leadership commitment

Leadership commitment is a major driver of change – many companies have learned this when they’ve introduced eco-friendly policies and left the championing to ‘green monitors.’ Not only do employees find it hard to buy into policies that aren’t spearheaded by management, but the green monitors feel like they lack a mandate – there’s no force behind the change. For many employees, if the directive hasn’t come from management, then it can’t be that important.

Corporate culture

Entrenched business culture can make intentional change harder to implement. Many ‘traditional’ businesses, characterised by qualities like established processes, low management turnover and heavyweight leaders, can impede change because the infrastructure and communication channels for change are non-existent. On the other hand, companies in fast-paced industries where adaptation is key to survival and part of the established culture will find it much easier to implement change.

Balance of ‘for’ and ‘against’ attitudes

It’s relatively easy to judge the overall ‘mood’ in an office – likewise it’s not hard to judge the overall mood towards a particular policy of change. If change is not forthcoming or hard to push through, HR should look at prevailing workplace attitudes and try to understand precisely why the numbers ‘against’ outweigh the numbers ‘for.’ Sometimes a small shift can be the impetus needed for employee buy-in to occur and therefore the difference between success and failure. Employee attitudes are often influenced by key workers – often those with strong, confident personalities. HR may achieve greater success by targeting these employees.

Readiness for change

People must feel comfortable before they embrace change. If they don’t feel comfortable, it’s always reducible to one fear: what the future will look like. This is why communicating a clear, transparent map of change is important. Employees must understand precisely what change will mean to their lives before they are comfortable enough to let it proceed. HR must present the case strongly and confidently if employees are to buy-in to the idea. Allowing questions to be raised anonymously is also fundamental – no employee wants their name associated with ‘negativity,’ but it’s only through employee feedback that true engagement can occur.

Resistance levels

Resistance to change is a big inhibitor and can be fuelled by a number of factors:

  • External events – poor public perception of bonuses, for example, may make employees more resistant to the introduction of a bonus scheme
  • Personal qualities – some people are naturally mistrustful of change, while others embrace it
  • Precedence – whether the same or similar change initiative has failed in other companies, or in the same company
  • Levels of unity – unified workplaces are more responsive to change whereas in misaligned workplaces, where there’s inherent distrust, it’s harder to get everyone on board

Communication

Effective communication must surround all aspects of intentional change. Transparency is fundamental – HR must be honest in how the change will affect the business and its employees and why the change has been considered.

Ownership of the change is also fundamental. People must know who to go through if they have any questions or issues with the new initiative, and on a practical level ownership brings the change into the ‘real world’ – it’s no longer only an abstract idea. Collateral is also key here: internal documents around the change, or posters, can help employees come to terms with the change more effectively.

Each of these areas are valuable – HR must work out which are most applicable within their organisation and make sure that all change is coordinated in the most efficient way possible. In ‘new-age’ agencies with horizontal hierarchies, for example, management commitment may be less important than communication.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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