Feelings are the key to successful change

Gordon Brown’s recent announcement that more than 40,000 roles will be cut
from the Civil Service would seem a classic example of ‘old-style’, autocratic,
change management. But how else could it have been done? Successful change
programmes are those that help people gain an emotional understanding of how
change will benefit them personally, and encourage them to take both individual
and team responsibility for their future.

In his book, The Heart of Change, John Kotter describes "a core pattern
associated with successful change: See… Feel… Change". To make change
happen, he argues, organisations must focus on getting people to feel
differently instead of trying to make them think differently.

He cites examples to prove that the key to successful organisational change
lies in experiential learning: people must feel change before they can believe
in it – they must take on board the new reality in tangible, concrete ways.
Most organisations rely on simply putting out a lot of information and
expecting employees to see the logic behind the strategy.

Organisations, particularly in Western cultures, tend to focus on rational
analysis when making the case for change, but rational analysis doesn’t excite
people or motivate them to want to join up to a new cause. People almost always
change their behaviour for emotional and intuitive reasons – because they
believe in something.

Tackling restructuring will be a significant challenge for the HR teams at
the Inland Revenue, HM Customs & Excise, and the Department for Work and
Pensions. Yet it offers a tremendous opportunity for HR to take the lead. It
will need to pull the best talent from inside and outside the HR function to
ensure a successful and sustainable transition and avoid creating a feast for

Efficiency may lead to job cuts, but job cuts don’t necessarily lead to
efficiency. Brown’s driver is obviously cost reduction through efficiency
savings, but focusing on headcount reduction is the wrong place for HR to
start. Understanding the future service delivery requirements of each department
and aligning theses with the organisation’s structure must come first.

People make change happen, or they stop it happening. Having made his
announcement so publicly, Brown has not helped those affected people to enter
the transition in the ideal way.

HR needs to act quickly to reposition the workforce and prepare it for
change. Most employees will remain and they will need to feel and see that the
future state looks like an exciting place to be.

Putting highly-experienced managers right at the heart and demonstrating the
new culture through management behaviour will be critical to the Civil
Service’s future success.

By Alan Bailey, head of business process outsourcing Xchanging

Comments are closed.