10 ways to win at business change by keeping staff onside

Top tips and keeping the project - and your team - running smoothly

It's a common refrain: the hardest part of any IT-enabled change project is not managing the technology, it's persuading the people.

Recalcitrant staff who resist change or employees whose productivity falls off a cliff when faced with new working practices can derail change programmes and drag projects into delay and overspend.

Graham Benson, HR and IT director at online clothing retailer M&M Direct has managed business change programmes throughout much of his career, which includes senior IT management roles at Avis, online entertainment retailer Play.com and DIY outfit Screwfix Direct.

For Benson, running a successful change programme is just as dependent on knowing how to handle people as it is on getting the technology right. Here are his top 10 tips for keeping people on side when an organisation runs a change programme, shared at The CIO Event conference in Wales this week.

Head off mutiny

Don't compromise when picking the team who will work with you to deliver a change project.

Change tends to be a painful process, and while it's easy for a team to paper over the cracks when things are going well. When things go wrong it really tests that group's mettle. If the team's skillset or relationship is not strong enough to weather setbacks, then the results can be quite destructive.

Military recruiters ask themselves 'Would you trust this person enough to put your life in their hands?'. Similarly, in the world of business, the question that change programme managers should be asking is 'Would you trust the success of your enterprise, project or team to that person?'. If you can't answer 'Yes', then you shouldn't be entering into the project with that person.


Successful business change is often reliant on keeping staff onsidePhoto: Shutterstock

Communicate but don't vacillate

Make a point of telling those people affected by change how it will impact them, and do it by talking to them. Don't try and fudge the communication using half-measures like sending memos as these can be misunderstood or missed altogether.

However, while it is important to be clear with staff about the changes and to allow them to express their views, don't try to accommodate everybody's point of view. Better to bear the general view in mind while delivering the project as planned, rather than reshaping the project in an attempt to satisfy everyone.

What's in it for me?

Self-interest is a powerful motivator. As nice as it is to think that staff will be won over by a well-argued and reasonable thesis on why change is needed, they are far more likely to be persuaded if you can tell them how the changes will benefit them.

If you are selling change then you have to tell people why they want to buy it.

Don't rubbish the past

Marching into a department and telling staff that things need to change because everything they've done up to that point has been crap is not going to win you any supporters.

Be very careful when highlighting why the current ways of working are wrong because staff can take it as a personal attack on their past performance. Such an approach can trigger negativity and resistance to change.

Embrace the naysayers

During any change project there will usually be a few people who will dig their heels in and resist what is being proposed. Faced with such negativity the temptation for the manager is to...