Getting to the heart of organisational change

Mar 28 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Successful organisational change should be as much about changing the way people think and behave as about overhauling how they work, workplace specialists have said.

The call comes in the wake of research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggesting that two thirds of British businesses fail to back up organisational change with proper training and development.

The success of organisational change in major organisations was being jeopardised by a failure to put in place adequate training and development measures, according to the CIPD study, published last week.

But HR, coaching and training specialists have told Management-Issues that while training and development obviously is hugely important in effective organisational change, it should be just one element of a larger transformational package.

Blaming failures simply on a lack of training and development was too simplistic, warned Kate Lidbetter, head of the coaching and mentoring practice at consultancy firm Skai Associates.

"Lack of training is sometimes used as a catch-all excuse by people who are reluctant to change. But it is because the change management programme has not met the hearts and minds," she explained.

Successful change management needed to be as much about changing attitudes and behaviours as about changing skills or competencies, she stressed.

"People are amazingly capable, and can achieve a great deal without training Ė as long as they have the right mindset," Lidbetter said.

Companies too often turned to training as a knee-jerk response to organisational change, when they might to better advised simply to coach a few, key workers.

Such an approach would help create change champions throughout the business and so make buy-in much more likely, she added.

Organisations often shoot themselves in the foot by failing to bring learning and development, and even HR, into the change process at an early enough stage, agreed Anne Gammie, Director of Organisational Development at ER Consultants.

Focusing on changing processes, procedures and even your employer brand without addressing how you expect your people to change at the same time is too often a waste of money, she argued.

"What companies should be trying to do is creating a different capability rather than simply skills building. It needs to be about attitude of mind," she said.

Companies could carry out "capability audits" looking at the core strengths of their workforce and how they can be getting to where they want to go, she argued.

Another useful route is to create simulations of the new environment workers will be expected to be working within, rather than presenting them with the new technology or processes they will be using.

"It is about trying to simulate what life will be like in the new organisation and expose work teams to that," said Gammie.

The CIPD study found that two thirds of organisations admitted insufficient training and development was put in place in the wake of organisational change initiatives.

More than half said the training and development implications of change were simply not thought through.

More than four out of 10 of reorganisations only involved learning and development professionals after all the major decisions have been made or at the final stages of the project, the CIPD found.

A further nine per cent did not involve learning and development professionals at all.

On the plus side, 27 per cent of organisations involved learning and development professionals from the initial planning stages, and in a further 19 per cent of organisations they were brought in at the initial implementation stage.