Change management can mean different things to different people. But at its core is a journey from a current situation to a desired future state, e.g. a change in culture or behaviours ("the way things are done here") perhaps prompted by a change of ownership, strategy, or technology.

Staff engagement and involvement are critical in successfully managing change in any workplace; according to PricewaterhouseCooper, nine out of ten of the key barriers to the success of change programmes are people related.

Change management is a process that works by identifying the current situation, what needs to change, what can change, and how the change will take place. The core principles of successful change management are thus:

  • understand the current situation and where you want to be
  • establish when, why and how you will know you've achieved desired change 
  • plan how to get where you want to be in measurable stages
  • communicate with and seek involvement and support from people affected by the change as soon as possible.

One of the most-used illustrations in change management is the change curve, based on the 'five stages of grief' although there is no such thing as an average reaction to change, and not everyone goes through the same stages. 

For example, the need to change may already be recognised by employees (so they have no denial stage) and by involving people, rather than imposing change, there is a good chance of bypassing anger and depression. People who naturally embrace change may move quickly to the acceptance stage; others less keen or nervous about change may spend longer in the denial stage.

Why do change initiatives fail?

Between 60% and 70% of all change initiatives fail to meet one or more of their stated objectives. 

The key reasons for failure are:  

  • lack of effective leadership 
  • treating the change in isolation, not considering its impact on the rest of the organisation
  • poor programme and project management
  • insufficient training in change management, programme/project management and leadership skills 
  • poor communications. 

Other failings include concentrating on process and not on people; a lack of visible sponsorship or rationale for change which leads staff to believe it will not happen; or a flurry of activity around change for a couple of weeks before everything goes quiet, again leading to people believing it won't happen.

Imposing change also tends to lead to resistance, while assuming that people’s personal objectives are aligned with the schools’s or that staff prioritise organisational needs over their own. 

"the departmental head's role in leading his or her team through change is thus vital"

The CIPD has identified two types of resistance to change, which require different approaches from managers:

  1. resistance to the content of change - e.g. an objection to the system or process that is being introduced
  2. resistance to the process of change - e.g. the way a change is introduced.

Resistance can be due to lack of clarity, lack of consultation, shock or the sense of having no control, inconvenience, loss of a role or status, or resistance based on historical evidence (e.g. we tried this before and it didn't work then, so it won't work now). The departmental head's role in leading his or her team through change is thus vital.