Organisational Change and Transformation: It's Emotional!

Andrew McArthur is our Director of Management Consulting

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In a dynamic world, organisations must be responsive and accept that change is inevitable and vital for success. Whether that change be driven by new policies, regulatory change, consumer demand, climate change, new technology, or anything else from a very extensive list, the goal is to realise the full value of the change activity in question. Yet 80% of change projects fail to deliver their objectives. This amounts to a lot of wasted time, effort, and money for everyone involved.

In this short article, I will focus on process change and the development of change capability as a way to be within the 20% of successful change.

The importance of process and continual improvement

“A job that isn’t worth doing, isn’t worth doing well” (Abraham Maslow)

Herein lies a significant part of the reason why failure rates are so high. Either our goals are unrealistic, or the way we go about achieving them doesn’t make sense to those that deliver them.

Organisations have processes and procedures in place to manage ways of working in alignment with corporate goals and objectives, but if they are not fit for purpose then they are less likely to be followed. This can result in ineffective or incomplete task delivery, increased safety risk, financial impacts and/or service performance issues.

Processes and procedures should be simple and intuitive such that they unify people and ‘pull’ them along. More often than not, however, they are overly complex and ‘push’ rigid, out of date and ill-defined ways of working that meet a requirement of the time. This then requires incentives and sanctions to cajole people into following them.

Continual improvement is key. An organisation must remain flexible and responsive to changes in internal and external drivers. This often requires changes to people, systems, processes and procedures in order to deliver new or updated products or services. Strong feedback loops will allow the organisation to respond to change in a timely manner, enabling continued realisation of value from operational activities and the delivery of objectives. Of course, however, with continual improvement comes continual change.

Why change fails

The only constant in life is change” (Heraclitus)

Change fails due to lack of business ownership and senior leadership buy-in. It dies in the middle with late or limited engagement of operational managers in solution design and the subsequent creation of friction and resistance – a push, not a pull. Change fails if the underlying resistance to change is not recognised and worked with.

Understanding and working with resistance

If you want to make enemies, try to change something” (Woodrow Wilson)

Resistance is normal. Organisational change disrupts the status quo and triggers different emotional responses from employees, with internal resistance to change surfacing as a result.

The Kübler Ross Change Curve Model was originally created to depict the 5 stages of grief but is equally relevant to the corporate world to help people understand and work with the reaction to significant change (or loss).

The change curve depicts three specific transitional stages (unmanaged change):

  1. Endings (shock and denial) People discover they have to let go of normal, predictable and comfortable environments. There is a feeling of loss of control. Not everyone will view the change in the same way. The key is to manage the environment so that people’s differing views are respected.
  2. Passage (Frustration and Anger) At transition points they become angry, blaming others / things for their own feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. People feel lost, uncertain and outbursts can be made in frustration. The key is to be patient and focus on moving forward, not on the past.
  3. New Beginnings (Acceptance and Integration). People make a choice by committing to the ‘new’; they become hopeful about the future and build new trust, relationships and achievements. They can become impatient for progress. At this point the 20% of successful change is within grasp.

Figure 1: The Kübler Ross Change Curve (modified)

Emotional change is only one part of understanding resistance to change. Informational and cultural aspects are equally important and interlinked with emotional change. Without clear, consistent and targeted communications and training, the workforce is unlikely to be ready, willing and able to change. Understanding the cultural archetypes (the personality of an organisation) is also important because, as with emotional responses, there are specific ways to enable that ‘pull’.

Effective change occurs when dissatisfaction with the current state, belief in a compelling future state and the plan to get there are greater than the rational, emotional & cultural resistance to change. This is the formula for change success.

An organisation can use the change curve to anticipate and understand the response to change and tailor effective communication and support activities. This will reduce negative consequences and accelerate change, improving the likelihood of success. 

Developing change capability

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” (Henry Ford)

To be able to realise effective change and work with resistance, an organisation needs to identify the likely change(s) at hand – its scale, impact, ease of implementation and the level of realisable benefits that can be achieved. To achieve this, an organisation can undertake a change capability assessment, alongside an impact and resistance assessment. By mapping the outputs of these two assessments against business and customer needs, the level of benefits realisation can be established. With this, the capability development requirements can be considered to accelerate the change transition and maximise the benefits.

There are some practical actions that can be delivered to counter the emotional, informational and cultural resistance to change. A ‘change’ steering group can be a useful driver for success. This, coupled with an effective communication, stakeholder engagement and training plan, can keep colleagues informed, engaged and ready/willing/able to change. Working with those affected by change to design and build the solution is a key enabler, making it personal so that everyone knows ‘what’s in it for them’. Senior management must lead by example with positivity and passion. They must also be consistent with messaging, accountable for performance and provide adequate support at ‘go live’ to enable quick and effective problem solving.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Andrew McArthur

Director of Management Consulting

Andrew has extensive experience with business change and transformation, with a technical focus in asset management. He has successfully supported numerous clients across the water, transport and energy sectors to improve their asset management maturity, allowing them to balance cost, risk and performance parameters and the delivery of risk and evidence-based investment plans. This includes the identification and delivery of performance improvements to strategy, plans, process and procedure – across the asset lifecycle - so that assets are managed in alignment with organisational objectives.

2023-10-19 10:22:00