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I graduated from Imperial College, London with a degree in Mining Geology, and then joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). After 6 years there, I moved to Berkeley. I have had the privilege of wo...

Juliet Armstrong, Partner

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People are often an organisation's greatest asset. But they aren't always receptive to change. So how do you push through radical change and still win hearts and minds?

People can be the greatest champions or the biggest threats to change. So getting the people in your organisation to buy-in and positively contribute to your change programme is crucial. After all, they are the ones who, day-to-day, will be delivering new and improved service on the front-line or running a streamlined back office.

But how do you go about putting your people at the heart of the change you are planning? Do you involve them in determining how you change, or do you only communicate with them once you have your whole story straight? What is the people agenda that needs to be addressed, and who is responsible for driving it?

1. Your role as leader

Change in organisations invariably affects peoples' roles, working relationships, career paths, and often their personal lives. Naturally, people contemplate change with trepidation.

However, people are also de-motivated by uncertainty and drift so will usually rally behind a strong leadership which means business, even if personal outcomes are unclear.

Putting people at the heart of change is not about going soft. It's about leaders making choices about what's right for the business, taking due account of the interests of both their shareholders and their people, setting out publicly the new context in which decisions around policy, organisation, operations and staffing will be made. And then sticking consistently to the story.

2. The role of your people

Once direction has been set, opportunity abounds for building ownership amongst managers and staff, whether through direct communication or having them own the detailed design and piloting of job roles, processes and systems.

You can create public opportunities for input, ensuring that you respond promptly and clearly to the feedback you receive. Or you could consider staffing the change programme or empowering individuals who are widely respected for embodying the spirit of the current organisation.

3. The contribution of HR

Uncertainty about the future is demotivating. At the core of successful change is clear and consistent communication. This requires not just thoughtful planning, but concerted action and words from management. In this sense, leadership of the people agenda lies with line managers.

Nonetheless, there are crucial areas where you should look to HR for a specialist contribution. For example, remuneration policy should be reviewed to see how incentives might be re-aligned around new strategic objectives and making change happen effectively.

Appropriate guidance and help is needed for people whose roles are disappearing. Processes around selection, training and recruitment for new roles need to be designed and managed. And line managers will want to understand the impact on their career progression of spending time on the change programme.

4. Building momentum

Once the change teams have been mobilised, the next objective should be to hit early targets, demonstrating tangibly that the organisation means business and can deliver successfully.

With momentum established, the power of the people in the organisation will swing in behind you.

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