New Year resolutions: sticking to your guns

Losing weight, stopping smoking and spending less – we all make New Years’
resolutions that sometimes we are not ready to embrace. This is as true for
organisations as it is for individuals. Yet many organisational change
initiatives, like most New Years’ resolutions, are lucky to survive past
Valentine’s Day.

In today’s high-tech business environment many assume that project failure is
mostly down to technology or software. The reality is that in today’s world
technology works. It’s the people in an organisation that really make change
happen. In any change programme there are always loud voices and strident
opinions – both pessimistic and positive.

Stuck in a rut

‘Resolution breakers’ are typically those employees who have been doing
things in the same way for years, who have not experienced significant change.
They are particularly prevalent in large organisations and typified by a
reactionary attitude that can be best expressed by the phrase ‘if it ain’t
broke, don’t fix it’.

The comments of these assumed pessimists can be heard at team meetings,
around the water-cooler or in the pub after work, and while they may appear to
be flippant, throw-away remarks they soon build up to cause a general resistance
to change and a picture of widespread discontent. For many organisations, this
‘noise’ remains the barometer of how employees are feeling about the
organisation’s latest project.

Whatever the context, individuals remain the indicator by which many
companies measure employee acceptance towards a particular change initiative.
Change initiatives, in the majority of cases, are implemented to improve
efficiency and thus increase profitability. So it is easy to see how the
inability to cut through this noise can have a significant effect on the

Most organisations are familiar with the need to address change management
issues associated with large-scale business, technology or organisational
projects. There exist a number of accepted approaches and tools to engage with
key stakeholders – be it employees, customers, regulators or other third

Yet project delays, and even failure, are common. Research shows that seven
of the top ten reasons for failure are people-related – and that this may be
because organisations are targeting their change management efforts based on the
voices of a few or on a limited number of aspects of change.

In a bid to solve this problem and help those responsible for implementing
the project there are tools available that test an organisation’s readiness for
change across what is considered to be the seven critical elements of change.

The reason these tools work is that they give a broad framework within which
project managers may constantly assess attitudes over the time period of the
change initiative. This continuous approach is crucial as, like most New Year
resolutions, employees are often willing to accept the benefits that a proposed
change will bring but sometimes struggle with the realities of implementation.
Such tools cut through these mists of subjectivity to provide sharp, quantified

With many organisations committing substantial investment to change
initiatives, it makes sense to have a ‘harder’, fact-based approach to managing
change and ensure a greater chance of returning that investment.

A further benefit is that the elements identified can be applied to measure
real change readiness across the board, from the shop-floor employee to the
chief executive at corporate headquarters. The result is that a complete picture
of an organisation and its appetite for the change proposed can be built, and
problem areas can be easily identified. Consequently it is possible to build a
targeted action plan for the deployment of conventional change tools and
engineer a smooth and successful change for the better.

Positive approach

As is so often the case, the key to overall success is an approach that is
driven from the top down and from the bottom up, supporting the stragglers and
responding to any criticisms of the project. Furthermore it is important to
point out the benefits emerging as the initiative progresses, like telling the
dieter how good they are looking.

Positive encouragement can make a vital difference in helping people resist
the temptation to fall into old bad habits. We recognise from our experience
that the larger the organisation the harder it is to ensure that employees
receive the personal touch. Yet, paradoxically, it becomes even more important
as large-scale gossip and grumbling can rapidly morph into all out opposition to
the proposed project.

Though it may sound trite, it is important to remember the employee/employer
relationship is just that, a relationship. Consequently, for lasting change to
occur project managers need to engage rather than dictate; running an
organisation like a dictatorship will lead to resentment and reduced returns.

Effective change can only be based on a partnership between staff and
management moving towards a common goal of greater efficiency. The result should
be greater job satisfaction, a happier workforce and a considerably healthier
bottom line. It doesn’t get much better than that.


Management consultancy Leadent recently developed a diagnostic software tool
that tests a company’s readiness across seven critical elements of change:

? Compelling case – understanding the need for change. It should not be a
decision taken without full consultation

? Clear strategy – the project destination must be a specified goal

? Defined plan – how to get to the destination.

? Available resources – are the means obtainable to get to the destination?
It is important that initiatives are practical.

? Skills and capabilities – are the necessary skills available to deliver the

? Readiness to act – people’s motivation. Convincing employees of the
benefits they will feel once a project has been completed and strong support
along the way is crucial?

?Measures/communication – how the team feels about its performance and

Tracey Devlin is head of the public sector division at
Leadent, a management consultancy

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