Communication breakdowns undermine change

Sep 02 2013 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Three-quarters of change management initiatives fail to deliver over the long term, new research suggest, with companies' inability to prepare and train managers to be effective change leaders a major contributory factor.

The 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Survey found that over half of employers (55 per cent) say of their change management initiatives meet their initial objectives. However, only a quarter respondents say they are able to sustain gains from their change management initiatives over the longer term.

"Most companies are having a difficult time keeping the momentum of their change management initiatives going," said Nicola Cull, a senior change management consultant at Towers Watson.

"The organisations that are able to sustain change over time are those that focus on the fundamentals that we know drive successful change: communication, training, leadership engagement and measurement. And despite nearly uniform acceptance that these are the key drivers of change, the companies that are not good at them are not getting any better."

The survey found that most companies recognise that managers have an important role to play in managing change. But while nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87 per cent) claim to train their managers to manage change, fewer than a quarter (22 per cent) report that this training is effective.

"Managers are a catalyst for successful change. Now is the ideal time for organisations to look at this lingering problem from a new angle, focusing on the manager's role. For managers to succeed at spearheading change, companies need to change their approach, train managers more effectively and do a much better job of communicating with them," said Cull.

The scale of this "communication gap" can be gauged by the fact that only two-thirds (68 per cent) of the senior managers questioned for the survey say they understand the reasons behind major organisational decisions. Below the senior management level, the message dwindles further. Only half (53 per cent) of middle managers and 40 per cent of first-line supervisors say their management does a good job of explaining the reasons behind major decisions.

"To prepare managers for their role as successful change leaders, companies must ensure that they focus on informing, engaging and enabling their employees. Managers need to understand why people resist change and acknowledge that they themselves are likely to resist change. They also need to be visible, engage in dialogue with their team early and often, and ensure that employees feel like they have a stake in the success of the organisation," said Cull.