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January 13, 2009

Managing change through good internal communications gives companies an edge, says survey

More than 60% of human resources (HR) and communications personnel at major UK businesses believe that the ability to manage change provides companies with a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This was the finding of from new research commissioned by audience engagement specialist Crystal Interactive, which conducted a series of in-depth interviews HR and communications personnel at 100 of the UK’s largest and most successful organisations across the private and public sectors.

The survey also revealed that 60% of respondents said communications-related issues, such as too few or badly executed meetings and events, were at the root of most initiatives. This is bourne out by the fact that 67% of those surveyed believe their organisations manage change well by engaging with their workforce through cascading plans down to them or delivering key information at group meetings and conferences.

Badly communicated
However, a significant minority (33%) admitted their senior teams fared poorly in this area, suggesting that many companies need to improve their internal communications processes, by, for example, holding more and better events.

This conclusion was also supported by the fact that, taking into account major change programmes executed in their past and present employer organisations, senior managers collectively concluded that 44% of these initiatives had failed to reach their stated goal.

The survey revealed that, in such cases, senior managers are not allowing enough time – either to introduce the change itself, or to engage with staff in communicating its implications. It emerged that in the organisations where change is managed well, senior management spend all of their time addressing change issues – this is more than twice the average stated time of 47%.

Bunker mentality
“It’s evident that organisations are on an upward or downward spiral when it comes to change,” said Crystal Interactive managing director Chris Elmitt. “In the 33% that expect change to be handled badly, there’s a bunker mentality among leaders, with major initiatives driven from the top, and no input from below.

“The mindset here is that staff should just fall in line. But in the significant majority that are on an upward trend, executives apply a collaborative approach – consulting and cascading information down through the work force. They clearly recognise the competitive advantage that this ethos brings.”
Respondents believed that the ramifications of a failed change initiative are felt right across the business. According to 82% of the directors and senior managers studied, if a proposed change is badly managed, staff become demotivated, while 79% said employees leave and almost three quarters believed that the remaining staff are often left confused about the business’ strategic direction.

Tips on managing change
Crystal Interactive’s report concludes with an eight-point plan for companies that are contemplating change initiatives or which are already struggling to manage existing change programmes:

1. Devote as much time getting complex decisions accepted as you did in getting them ‘right’ in the first place.

2.  Success in managing change is likely to breed success. The opposite may also be true, but with today’s level of change that is a cycle that must be broken.

3.  Make the ability to manage change a major factor in recruiting or promoting staff into senior management roles.

4. Engage staff in the change process very early on, drawing on the experience, expertise and insight that exists within the workforce.

5. Always allow staff interaction – staff ‘voice-share’ at meetings should amount to at least 15% of the overall agenda – and act on what you hear.

6. Identify representatives within each staff constituency who can help deliver the change message and make it relevant to their peers.

7. Ensure that communication is a key part of the change process rather than being a nice ‘add-on’ at the end or a separate stream of activity.

8. Look to utilise the full range of skills (HR, communications and events) to inform the change, while ensuring that managers retain ownership of the process.

 The full report, commissioned by Crystal Interactive is available for download on www.crystal-interactive.co.uk

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