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Change fails to win hearts and minds


New research shows that nearly two thirds of employees either refuse to commit to change in their organisations or feel unable to do so – even after the change has taken place.

Management consultancy Changefirst surveyed more than 600 change leaders and project managers in global organisations about employee commitment to changes such as mergers, cultural change, outsourcing, restructuring, quality or service improvements and new hardware and software installations.

Responses indicated that 37% of employees would commit to the new structures and ways of doing things, 25% would resist the changes and 38% would require more support from their organisation to be effective.

Five main reasons were identified for the low commitment to change:

  • Employees do not fully recognise the need to personally change their ways of working

  • Change leaders fail to win support from influential people

  • The change process is not communicated effectively

  • Middle and front-line managers neither show role models for the new behaviours nor provide the necessary support to employees

  • Change leaders become complacent when the project is near completion.

Changefirst’s MD David Miller said the failure to capture hearts and minds not only jeopardises the benefits of the change, it is also adversely affects the organisation’s ability to implement future changes.

He added: “Executives need to be able to manage the true impact on people of major change programmes and give as much time and energy to implementing key change initiatives as they do to building the strategy.”

The findings back a survey of more than 4,000 professional communicators across the UK earlier this year, carried out by communication campaigns agency Karian and Box and search and selection consultancy VMA Group.

That survey found that a third of respondents said staff did not believe in the direction their organisation was heading and 60% said that staff have little or no involvement in shaping the organisation’s strategy.

“Many businesses ‘talk a good talk’ when it comes to communicating change, but that talk rarely translates into effective action,” said Karian and Box director Ghassan Karian.

“The discrepancy between understanding and believing in an organisation’s direction may be explained by the potential suspicion employees have of the spin and gloss used in communications,” he added.

Changefirst’s findings also support the notion of good communications – particularly noting the importance of face-to-face briefings. Other factors which can help improve acceptance of change are:

  • Ensuring there is a visible problem or opportunity for the change to address – people rarely feel a commitment to change if they think it is just for change’s sake

  • Ensuring there is support and encouragement from line managers

  • Ensuring that middle and line managers carry out the new behaviours – avoiding the ‘do what I say not what I do’ syndrome

  • Enabling workers to offer their opinions, give feedback, discuss glitches – people are more likely to embrace change if they feel they are part of it rather than the change being something that is being done to them.

Management training is one of the key factors to helping organisations manage change effectively. Miller said that middle and senior managers “need to be able to predict the true impact on people of major change programmes and they must ensure that change management is effectively resourced.”

Further down the management chain, line managers and project managers need to be able to identify the change stages and activities where high levels of involvement are required - and facilitate this involvement so that commitment is built.


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