Why HR must lead ‘the people side of change’

A simple formula can be used to manage the people side of change and to measure the effectiveness of initiatives.

Why HR must lead ‘the people side of change’
In 1996, John Kotter from Harvard Business School famously stated that 70% of change programs fail.

In 2008, McKinsey surveyed 3199 executives and showed that nothing had changed with the fail rate holding at an obstinate 70%.

In 2013, Willis Towers Watson reported that despite the sophisticated change management advice available, only 25% of transformation projects are successful.

Common reasons for the high fail rates include failing to ‘prepare managers as effective change leaders’, ‘management behaviour not supporting change’, ‘neglecting the remaining staff’ and managers ‘completing the change process too early’.

“Regardless of the study, the causality is centred around the people side of change,” according to Christopher Paterson, managing director of Alchemy Career Management.

“As a career coaching firm, this link between organisational success and the human factor is not a surprise yet we are consistently surprised by the lack of resources deployed to manage the people side of change, despite the evidence clearly showing that businesses are healthier when we get this right.”

Paterson added that HR professionals are ideally placed to facilitate success by leading the people side of change.

Engagement formula

A range of success variables are highlighted in change management research; however, there is agreement that strong cultures keep good people (retention) and that those people are effective (productivity), according to Paterson.

Furthermore, staff engagement is consistently correlated to both higher retention rates and productivity.

Paterson said can use this simple formula to manage the people side of change and to measure the effectiveness of our initiatives:


“Staff engagement has also been correlated with higher discretionary effort, more profit, higher customer loyalty, greater creativity and innovation so we can be confident in the central role that this plays in facilitating a strong business and healthy balance sheet,” he said.

Managing the executive

Paterson and his company have worked with a range of HR professionals from those who play a pivotal and demonstrable role in guiding the executive and the organisation through change, to their colleagues who find themselves in a passenger role with limited influence.

“Interestingly, this variance is not always defined by age and experience with some experienced HR practitioners still playing a support role rather than a leadership role while their less experience counterparts demonstrate the ability to advise and influence,” Paterson added.

“We also observe first-hand the impact that strong HR leadership has on staff and managers internally, as well as the brand perception in external market (ie customers, suppliers and the media).”

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