CIPD Podcast 3 - Managing change

Date: 09/01/07 Duration: 00:14:55

Change, a constant fact of life, is discussed by experts and fellow practitioners. Michael West, Head of Research and Professor of Organisational Psychology at Aston Business School, Vicky Wright, Senior Consultant at Watson Wyatt and CIPD President, Vanessa Robinson, Organisation and Resourcing Adviser, CIPD, Francesca Okosi, HR and Corporate Services Director, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and Kevin Green, People and Organisation Development Director, Royal Mail explore the challenges for people management and talk about their experience of change management.


Rajan Datar: Hello and welcome to the third podcast in the series from the CIPD. In this podcast we'll be focussing on managing change. There are some great resources listed in the accompanying show notes which you can find at You can also find our other podcasts there and subscribe to receive future editions. Change is a day-to-day reality for organisations. In order to succeed they have to be able to adapt. But there's no single model of change and no single solution to managing it effectively. Recent CIPD research found that less than 60% of reorganisations met their stated objectives. So we sent Philippa Lamb to speak to a variety of experts and practitioners to hear their views.

PL: Why is change such a big issue? I mean, it's not new, we've always had change in really big organisations, we've been talking about it endlessly for years and yet it's still such a big problem.

Vanessa Robinson: I think that change is particularly important these days because it seems that the pace of change really is accelerating.

Kevin Green: What's happening now in terms of the competitive pressures is that organisations are having to change quicker, and faster, and more effectively. So that's become a core competency of successful organisations. Vanessa Robinson: Recent research we've done at the CIPD indicates that organisations are undergoing major change at least once every three years.

Francesca Okosi: It's not new but the reason people find it so difficult is that we all seem to want to repeat the same mistakes. One of the biggest is that we focus on systems and processes and forget that people aren't that straight forward. 

RD: Phillipa met up with Michael West, Head of Research and Professor of Organisational Psychology at Aston Business School to find out exactly why it is we still find change so tricky. 

PL: Why is change such a big hurdle for organisations? 

MW: Well one reason is that change is happening more and more rapidly. If you look over the last 200 years the waves of industrial change have come quicker on to the shores of organisations, so people are having to adjust much, much, more quickly - the technological changes are dramatic And when we change there's loss. We have to leave behind ways of doing things which were comfortable and we're facing new ways of doing things. As Marilyn Ferguson said 'it's not the change that we fear, and it's not that we're so in love with the old ways, it's the place in between that we fear.' She talked about it 'like being between trapezes - there's nothing to hold on to.' 

RD: We asked Vicky Wright, the new CIPD president about the evolving nature of change. 

VW: Managing change is a recurring theme at every conference I've been to for a long time, but our understanding of it has changed. First of all, a long time ago, really, we were talking about change as 'unfreeze-change-refreeze.' What we've got now is a continuous turbulence in the organisation which needs us to be ready to be changing, changing our focus, changing what we do, how we think, as we go. And that means you have to be looking at this in HR as something which goes beyond the 'we'll do a special project and stop.' Now, it's not about changing organisations, it's about changing people and people being ready for change all the time and I think that's the atmosphere that HR needs to create in organisations today.

RD: Vanessa Robinson is Organisation and Resourcing Adviser at the CIPD. She's led the CIPD's research into change management, examining the role HR has to play. 

VR: I think in a lot of organisations HR isn't allowed to be, or isn't as proactive in a particular change as would be ideal. Often they're given a more reactive role, almost, sort of, mopping up the blood, or picking up the pieces, where they're actually having to deal with redundancies, deal with change in terms and conditions, or whatever it might be. Whereas in fact for HR to really contribute and for the change to really be successful if they can have a proactive role and actually help set the strategy, the direction of the change, and be involved in the planning - that's particularly key. In our research we actually looked at what factors made changes more or less successful. And one of the factors which seemed to make change less successful was when it was done in some sort of piece-meal fashion so people weren't thinking holistically about the impact of a particular change. 

RD: You can find out more about the CIPD research Vanessa talked about at The research highlighted many challenges facing HR practitioners. We talk to some who've faced these challenges and ask them to share their experiences. First we talk to Francesca Okosi, HR and Corporate Services Director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). 

PL: At Defra - you've been there now for about three to four years - how have you changed what HR does, how it functions? 

FO: One of the first things we've put in place is a strategic plan for how we manage people in the department. There wasn't one, so in HR we were busy doing many interesting initiatives - all of them had merit in their own right but none of them joined up and made no sense to the business. 

PL: Were you surprised to find there was no strategy? I find that amazing. 

FO: I was horrified really, so actually decided to go round and talk to the business and started to talk to them, 'what are your real issues? What would success look like for you? What would you really want to get out of your people? If you're an individual in the organisation, how do you want to be treated in the organisation? What do you want to get out of your career here?' And it was through that. We ran a series of focus groups over six months with staff all the way through the organisation, from the top to the frontline staff, and it was through the messages that came through, the key themes that we developed our people strategy. It started to put the people strategy at the heart of what Defra does, and I no longer have stand on a soap box and say 'don't forget the people', actually, I'm now getting a call from the business which is, ' we need better people, we need our people developed as individuals, we want to know how to develop our skills, we want to have better opportunities, we want to try different things. 

RD: So that's what's been happening at Defra. What does Francesca think about HR's role in driving effective change? 

FO: I think there are a number of things that HR teams need to be doing differently, they need to really start being engaged in the business, and by that it doesn't mean having loads of business partners wandering around talking HR speak. It's about really understanding what the business is there to deliver. My experience in government so far has been that unless you relate it to what people come there to do - so if I take my own department, you know, we've got lots of young bright people who've come in because they want to save the planet - and if you can relate it to, 'if we make those changes we're better able to make that difference,' they'll buy into it. If you say it's because all well-run organisations have this, that and the other, they don't care, they're not really brought into that management philosophy, that management agenda. And that's often where HR people get it wrong. 

PL: Do you find, in your opinion, that HR's love of jargon, creates real barriers here? 

FO: Yes, I think it does, and I think I've been guilty of it in the past as well. I've looked at some of the documents I've written in the past in previous jobs and I've wondered how I got away with it. Because on reflection I don't actually understand what I was trying to say, so how did I expect the business to understand it. And I've learnt through actually making the mistakes that best practice isn't the issue, it's getting the right practice in place for your organisation. That means being pragmatic, it means using plain English, it means relating it to them. 

RD: Kevin Green is the People and Organisation Development Director for the Royal Mail 

PL: You've been there about three years now, haven't you? You've overseen big changes - what's been going on? 

KG: We have been going through a huge amount of change. I mean, the business was losing about 1.5 million every day and it's now making about 1.5 million profit, so from an organisational perspective we've gone from being a loss making organisation, on the edge of insolvency, through to an organisation that is making a healthy profit, and a healthy return. How did we do that? Well a number of things, one of them is about starting to do things differently, so we've taken 34,000 people out of the organisation, we've done that voluntary. We've reconfigured everything we do so everyone's job has changed in one shape or form. We did that through taking out things like the second delivery so now we don't deliver to houses twice, we only deliver to them once. For Royal Mail, an organisation that hasn't had to change - it's been in the public sector, and been a monopoly - this is a hugely new experience, so our change journey is one which is quite difficult, and our peole are struggling with it. It's a big quest. People like certainty, they like things to remain the same, there needs to be kind of psychological keys, some psychological triggers to get them to do things differently. 

RD: Professor Michael West picked up this theme: 

MW: What I think we need to do is give people ownership of change. If we give people ownership of change, then they can manage it. If we encourage them to be innovative, if we reward innovation, if we reward adaptation to change, then the culture becomes one where people can manage change better. It's the day-to-day texture of enabling, rewarding, maintaining, and encouraging innovation by individuals, and by teams within the organisation which will lead to the effective management of change. (Returns to Kevin Green) 

KG: It does mean that people have had to change their jobs, to work longer, to work a little bit harder. For that, what we have done is we are paying people more money, you know, we've improved pay by 22%. 

RD: Part of the change that Kevin's been introducing included a novel and much talked about approach to absence management. He explained what they've been doing at the Royal Mail from the stage at the CIPD's annual conference in Harrogate. 

KG: Absence was running at 7.8% - every 1% equals £40m. So it's really important we started going after that from a business that's losing money. We went up to our people and said we want to tackle this absence thing, lots of people being away, and they said 'what's in it for us?' So we basically said, after six months every single member of staff that hasn't had a day off, their name will go in a hat, area-by-area, and out of that we'll pull out one name, and that person gets a car. We've done it once, we've done it twice. And did it create huge momentum? Yeah, everyone in every office was talking about it. We created an opportunity for managers to talk to people about how absence was important, how we needed to address it, and that ways we were going to do that, and what was in it for them. 

RD: Kevin feels that by doing things differently, they've been able to successfully involve people in the process of change. 

KG: It's about getting people to understand that if they share in the pain, if they change, and if they come along on the journey, there's something in it for them. We're trying to make it a very different organisation, with a different feel, and a different way of managing our people and engaging them. We're trying to get people to own some of the change, so that it wasn't imposed, it wasn't centrally driven, it was about them and their manager doing things differently on the ground, and I think that's the power of what we've done - we've built some kind of sustainability into it. BREAK 

RD: Change can be difficult. It's not always a positive experience for the people involved. But Professor Michael West thinks there's a lot that can be done to manage this. Over to Philippa: 

PL: Given that change is so often an unhappy experience for organisations, I think it kind of suggests that perhaps we're not approaching it in the best possible way. What do HR professionals need to do to make the process of change, be it positive or negative change, at least easier. 

MW: Well, I think first of all we need to be clear about what changes we want to introduce. And part of the problem in organisations is so many changes are being introduced all at the same time that people can't cope. And that we need to be a little bit more judicious and regulated about the changes that we introduce: Is it building an effective human/work community? Is it going to lead to the organisation being more effective in its delivery to customers? And are people, as a consequence, going to flourish rather than languish? And it's those key questions that we need to answer. 

RD: We've already heard about the changes at Royal Mail. Now Kevin Green's looking to the future. 

KG: I think it takes a long time to change the mindset. I think we have made huge progress. It isn't something where they're waiting for the next initiative, waiting for the centre to tell them what to do. They're starting to do it themselves, and I think that's what we've been successful at, but, boy, do we have a long way to go. 

PL: You're now highly experienced in the area of change management. For organisations, maybe smaller organisations, or entirely different sorts of organisations that are just in the early stages of this, what is the big thing they need to think about? 

KG: I think you've got to define what you're trying to change from and to. I think I've worked with lots of HR professionals in lots of organisations and the mistake they'll consistently make is 'we need to change the culture' or 'we need to create different values' or 'change behaviours.' And I think what they have to do is to try and articulate 'why?' And I think that's the bit that brings it alive for our people, it's the understanding of why they need to change their behaviour, why they need to do their job differently. 

RD: For Francesca Okosi at Defra, one of the keys for successful change is clear direction from the top. 

FO: Our permanent secretary, Helen Ghosh, I think is a real inspiration for me, on a number of fronts, and she's kind of set a really clear challenge for the organisation. She says 'we're okay as an organisation, but we're not punching above our weight.' And what she's looking for is a world-class department that's confident, and capable, and is well-respected. That's her aspiration, and she's made it very clear that's what she expects us to deliver. And I think HR have played a really key role in helping the organisation. I think that we've got an even better opportunity to play a critical role and help the department move forward. 

RD: That's certainly a positive closing message from Francesca. If you've got any thoughts on the issues that she, or any of the other contributors have raised, please share them with us, by or by visiting You can also sign up to read future editions there and to read more about what you've been listening to. The next podcast in the series will be focussing upon talent management. If you want to hear about how organisations likePricewaterhouseCoopers, ITV, and the NHS are addressing this issue, please join us for the fourth in the series. So for now, goodbye.