To stand still is to go backwards

Organisations must change or risk failure. The keys to success are relevant and well-run change management training programmes
that address agreed goals and issues.

Change is constant at UK organisations. On average, they undertake a major change programme every three years, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

But people tend to be creatures of habit, so making sure those who are charged with managing change do it well is vital to the success of any organisation. Where there is change, there is uncertainty but, with the right training, staff feel more confident and change programmes get off to the best start.

CIPD research adviser, Vanessa Robinson, says many change programmes fail because organisations do not give due consideration to training.

“The business benefits of managing change well are obvious,” she says. “If a company is investing resources over long periods into a change programme and it fails, they lose money.

“If you instil change management skills in your staff they will use them again and they can help coach others.”

There are many courses that teach change management theory. But, if the change programme is complex, managers may need more bespoke training

Jeremy Francis, managing director of change management training specialist Rhema Consulting, says: “If you want staff to learn change management principles, send them on a course. But if you want to marry their understanding with the change initiatives happening in your organisation, training has to be thought through with much more rigour.”

Change management involves using skills, from project to people management. But the first stage is helping managers understand why change is necessary, so they can lead changes and answer questions from staff.

Trainers will often need to win over a sceptical audience. “You need to capture the hearts and minds of managers – it is all about attitude,” says Francis, who suggests that organisations conduct instructor-led workshops.

Consistent messages

Colin Carnall, associate dean at Warwick Business School, says: “Managers often don’t understand the strategy driving the change programme. They need to know what it is organisations are trying to change and why.”

But he says that before getting managers into the training room, they should be provided with background information about the change. He suggests giving managers change packs.

“Messages need to be delivered in a consistent fashion,” he says. “Take managers through a presentation, explain the logic behind the change and provide them with typical answers to questions their staff may ask.”

For large, complex organisations, Carnall suggests making versions of the change pack for different divisions and using separate workshops to train managers dealing with change at a local level.

“Training should allow managers to adapt what they have learned within their own teams – it needs to be flexible and give managers a sense of ownership,” he says.

Sandra Evans, consultant at HR and training services company Fairplace, says managers should understand how change can make staff react in different ways.

“Even if certain behaviour seems irrational, there will be logical reasons behind it. Managers need to talk through all of the possibilities to increase their understanding,” she says.

Employers must also address the leadership style. Francis says 360-degree appraisals at the start of the training can be useful in identifying if a new style needs to be adopted.

The right mix

Change management training often involves a mixture of workshops, one-to-one coaching and role-playing – the right methods depend on the different needs of organisations. “People prefer to learn in different ways as training is very context-specific,” says Robinson.

After workshop training is over, coaching can be used to keep the momentum going and help the initial change team to train the rest of the workforce. “Training should cascade out – the further you are away from the core change team, the more likely you are to need coaching,” she says.

The hardest part of managing change can be anchoring it, but using an intranet can help organisations to reinforce training messages further down the line.

Francis advises putting the change management programme on an organisation’s intranet so managers can access and download processes.

He also suggests implementing online diagnostics. “Get line managers to fill in quizzes scoring themselves on the type of leader or change agent they think they are,” he says.

Refresher workshops can also be introduced to discuss how the changes are going, plus weekly progress reports via e-mail. Carnall says: “If you keep people’s attention focused on change, you will see momentum build up. If not, people think the programme has finished and will give up. You may also want to adjust the reward system to reinforce and reward new behaviour.”

Measuring how effective training has been will ultimately be seen in how successful the change programme is. But Carnall suggests monitoring the types of questions being asked in refresher workshops and conducting a quarterly survey.

Shifting perspectives

Although training should be driven internally, if you do not have the initial expertise, use an external provider. Francis says it is important to choose one that fits the organisation’s needs rather than trying to shoehorn them into a standard programme. “You really don’t want a standard product. Every change management initiative is different.”

And always ask for evidence of previous successes so you know what outside providers can deliver.

Using an external trainer brings some benefits. “They offer confidentiality,” says Evans. “Change management training is about shifting perspectives and you often need an external trainer to encourage people to speak openly.”

Choose trainers before you embark on the change programme. That way they can work with you from the start and will know what you want to achieve. If you have an internal training function, the external trainer should also work alongside them, says Francis. “That way, the training comes across as a seamless corporate initiative that has credibility,” he says.

Choosing the right training methods is about recognising the individual needs of those managing change. One size rarely fits all, so offering a mixture of training methods is often most effective. Think through the methods you need before making any decisions.

Evans adds: “Change programmes will create a legacy, regardless of whether it is good or bad. So you need to get it right.”

Five top tips



  • Communicate the strategy – set out the objectives of the change programme before training. Managers must understand fully why changes are being implemented.
  • One size does not fit all – use a mix of training methods. Instructor-led workshops, role-playing, one-to-one coaching and e-learning all have a place in change management training.
  • Maintain momentum – use coaching, e-learning and refresher workshops after initial training. Provide progress reports to help motivate managers to keep up the good work.
  • Seek expert help – if you don’t have internal expertise, use an external trainer. Ask providers to provide a draft proposal, prepare a budget and then negotiate against it.
  • Monitor progress – is the change programme being rolled out effectively? Regular staff attitude surveys should also tell you how effective the training has been.

Case study

In January 2005, business property provider Slough Estates started a change programme. Its aim? To change its structure from one based on traditional, specialist functional areas to one where restructured teams would have a geographical focus.

The company focused training on managers charged with delivering the restructuring message to their teams. Training, which was laid on by an external provider, included role-plays, where managers practised delivering the message.

“We wanted to help them to be more accountable for decisions concerning their people,” says Mark Pearce, HR business partner at Slough Estates.

Although trained counsellors were provided if a manager felt out of their depth and wanted to refer an employee to a professional, in the end very few needed such help.

Pearce says using an outside trainer was beneficial. “It was helpful in giving insights into the common pitfalls organisations can make when implementing change,” he says.

Feedback after the training was positive. “The managers felt more prepared for handling the change,” Pearce says.

The new structure went live in April 2005 and since then feedback from employees has been encouraging. “Because the change process was handled well, there appears to be a real appetite for more change in the organisation,” adds Pearce.

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