The prime minister is wrong about change and disruption – and HR knows it

Doug Baird looks at how the people profession can implement new strategies and tactics in a business without causing unwelcome upheaval

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Liz Truss’s keynote speech at the Conservative party conference acknowledged that “whenever there is change, there is disruption”. And while disruption may be an inevitability of change, minimising its impact needs to be managed carefully.

The prime minister’s view of change and disruption followed the impact of the government’s mini budget. It was offered as an explanation for the economic turmoil that followed the so-called ‘fiscal event’ to provide reassurance that the right decisions had been made. Whether or not this is true, it provides context for one of the most important steps for driving successful change management, scenario planning and robust due diligence.

When considering change, forward-thinking HR teams will work in close partnership with the many parts of an organisation, as well as drawing on outside expertise and experience. The intention is to consider the various positives and negatives that can result from the introduction of new strategies and tactics. Extensive consultation provides many degrees of thought about the possible impact of change. It lays the foundations for robust scenario and contingency planning to effectively manage any potential disruption and keep the transition from old to new on track.

Perhaps this extensive consultation and due diligence was not properly completed by the government ahead of the mini budget. There has been little evidence of carefully considered contingency measures being in place to address the negative impact of proposed tax cuts. The Bank of England stepped in to stabilise the value of the pound, while the prime minister and chancellor have since U-turned on cutting the 45p rate of income tax. 

Admittedly, it takes an admirable amount of intelligence, experience and maybe even a little bit of luck to accurately predict how the value of the pound will perform. However, there was no warning from the government while new policies were being announced about the difficulties that change may lead to in the pursuit of economic growth. This highlights another of the key factors for effective change management that overcomes any disruption: transparent communication that’s not compromised by bias.

Growth plans dominated the mini budget announcement, with an overwhelming focus on the positives that change would bring. Successful change management should be rooted in honest communication about what new strategies and tactics could mean for stakeholders. Explanation of new opportunities and advantages must be balanced with a focus on possible challenges, and should also involve reassurances about plans being in place to tackle any potential side effects of change. 

Transparent communication can better engage stakeholders and manage their expectations, helping to build confidence and buy-in to new and different ways of doing things. This helps smoothen the transition during a period of change and can garner more collective support for addressing any issues. Contingency plans will be better accepted and implemented to minimise any disruption.

Another key advantage of honest and open communication is that it can protect the reputation of leaders and the trust that people put in them. Outlining the possible challenges of change and being upfront about these helps to avoid panic and negative speculation when things aren’t quite going to plan. It also buys time for leaders and management teams to address potential issues, which can avoid them escalating and becoming disruptive. 

It is inevitable that change management will require a period of adaptation. Similarly, not every transition from old to new will be completely perfect and there will be issues to fix and modifications to be made along the way. With the right planning and engagement though, these matters will prove more bumps in the road rather than cause for drastic action such as a complete U-turn, further disrupting the route to growth.

Doug Baird is CEO of New Street Consulting Group