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Change Management: Balancing Human Needs with those of the Organisation


So, you’ve carried out a gap analysis, identified the areas of intervention, held numerous meetings, communicated your new vision to the company, gone full out with the implementation plan…and you failed. Miserably.

Nothing changed.

Well, don’t feel alone, research has shown that up to 70% of change management programs fail to achieve their objectives1. That’s right, 70%!   But why, you may ask.   Investigators have identified several reasons, the most important being employee resistance2.  Neglecting the human component in the change process seems to lead to obstructive behaviour, psychological barriers, and other inhibitory challenges.   Considering the high failure rate of change programs, we must assume that most of them focus their resources on the more technical aspects, ignoring the softer issues like employee engagement.   This is probably more so where change involves redistributing resources, and employees stand to lose their jobs.

Whatever the reasons may be, failure to engage employees during a change program is going to lead to disaster down the line. So how can we ensure that we do not make this mistake?

First, involve those who are going to be directly affected by the changes early in the process, providing them with sufficient information on why things need to change. Research in this area3 has shown that too little or too much information will not work. It would seem that giving just the necessary information on why things need to change, will suffice; a constant reminder of the impending change will create unnecessary anxiety.  During this stage some individuals will experience feelings of denial or anxiety4, so being able to provide support is important.

Next, wherever possible try to develop new processes together with those who will be directly involved in the changes. This will promote buy-in behaviour on the part of those who will need to adopt the new processes. Also, by being involved in the development process they will feel more committed to seeing it through. Identifying and involving “influencers” ( individuals who employees will listen to) in the buy-in process, will help the communication process immensely5.

Finally, ensure that you respect the psychological contract with your employee when considering change. That is, try to create a fair balance between what you are asking the employee to change and what you are prepared to give back to the employee. Change that is in favour of the company without giving anything in return to the employee may be reason for resistance, e.g. asking employees to change their hours without giving some flexibility in return may lead to unnecessary conflict. A balanced give and take scenario will help towards achieving the goals of the change program.

In conclusion, organisational change management involves changing people’s behaviour in some shape or form. As we have seen, failing to promote employee acceptance and cooperation is a clear recipe for failure. So, in your next change management program avoid being a bad statistic, think people first!

If you are looking to implement a change program and need support contact us for an informal discussion.

1Exploring strategic change. Balogun, Julia; Hope Hailey, Veronica. 2nd ed. Harlow : Prentice-Hall, 2004
2Maurer, R. (1997). Transforming resistance. HR Focus, Vol.74, No10, pp. 9-10 and Martin, H. H. (1975). “How We Shall Overcome Resistance”. Training & Development Journal, Vol.29 (9) pp32-4
3Oreg S. (2006) Personality, context, and resistance to organizational change. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol 15, pp73-101
4Scott, C.D. and Jaffe, D.T. (1988), Survive and thrive in times of change, Training and Development Journal, April, pp. 25-7.