Intelligent Strategies for Change


The truth of many change programmes is their lack of success. Yet HR professionals repeat the same mistakes over and over again. In particular, failing to develop people’s skills and approaches through change often leads to poor solutions and incomplete buy-in. Change management of this kind is likely to result in alienation of staff and a host of unforeseen difficulties, which can often be attributed to poor people skills and strategies. This article considers how HR professionals can lay the ground work to increase the likelihood of success, using people-centred approaches.

What goes wrong?

Given that over 60% of change programmes fail, what most often goes wrong?

  • Change announcements often come out of the blue, yet compliance and agreement is expected
  • Subsequent resistance is seen as a bit like a battle to be fought and won at all costs
  • Those who don't toe the party line are scapegoated
  • Buy-in is demanded rather than something which is jointly worked on
  • Unrealistic expectations that change will happen quickly, rather than over time
  • Failure to anticipate adequately that change takes time to embed
  • Blame heaped upon leaders of failed changes makes other change leaders overly cautious and fearful.

What are the key components needed for successful change strategies?

The key indicators of how successful change programmes are implemented lie in the people-centred skills which are displayed by leaders throughout the business.


People-centred leadership involves regular two-way communication with stakeholders and employees; using this listening to give a quick response to changing needs. This includes recognizing and developing skills to keep employees up to date to respond to change. Even HR people can over-focus on hard, logical plans rather than to anticipate and manage the emotions that change creates.

HR professionals need to promote a positive and supportive climate during change.

Leadership experts Kouzes and Posner conducted an extensive survey of leadership in organisations undergoing change. They concluded that meaning and emotion lay at the heart of successful change leadership. You will be more successful at leading change if you can create a compelling narrative out of the need to change that addresses the hopes and fears of stakeholders. Also, HR leaders must work to gain alliances with respected power players to help drive changes forward

Sensitivity to Emotional Responses

Those who possess people sensitivity are tuned in to people’s emotions and their reactions. They will often pick up and face up to resistance:


Frustration or outrage


Passive aggression


Agreeing and doing nothing

Avoiding contact

Allowing airtime for negative emotions

Particularly when change is felt to be threatening, initial employee reactions are often hostile, displaying negative comparisons and resistance. However much leaders want to press on with change, they need to listen, empathise and to support. Resistance and confusion frequently develop during an organisational change because people are unclear about what the future state will be like.

Taking time to actively listen

It is important to listen carefully for the facts and strengths of feelings. However, Stephen Covey makes clear “very few of us ever practice the highest form of listening, empathic listening.. I mean listening with intent to understand". It is vital to employ such skills and strategies if a change initiative is to succeed. If you can spend time helping people work through solutions and changes themselves by asking appropriate questions this is undoubtedly valuable and is more likely to lead to engagement with the change process.

The Key Message

This article has highlighted the importance of preparing the organisation’s managers for change through developing awareness of others’ feelings and emotions as they work through the change process. Such strategies need to be in place well before big change gets underway. Finely honed, they will help change leaders to communicate understanding of the need for change and assist those involved to be engaged throughout the change process.

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay Steve is a Learning Development Executive at Cranfield School of Management, Sarah is Managing Director of The Stairway Consultancy. Steve can be contacted via email on; Sarah on


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- Southern Housing Group
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