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The Inevitability of Organisational Change 

“There is nothing permanent except change” – Heraclitus (Greek philosopher, c. 535 BC)

“The only constant of business is change” – Mark Cuban, 2020

These two quotes, approximately 2500 years apart, demonstrate a fundamental reality – that change, whether in life or in business, is inevitable. This is as true now as it ever was – for organisations in today’s economic and technological climate, change is a fundamental reality must be embraced.

Change may be driven by one or more of a host of possible pressures – shifts in market demands, economic factors and technological advances are some obvious examples – though even broader changes in things like societal values or political climates may also necessitate change.

Ultimately, organisations must evolve – the world around us isn’t standing still, so why would we think that we can afford to? Our customers, employees, and stakeholders expect us to keep pace with changing needs and preferences. A recent Gartner study shows that the average business has tackled five major organisational changes in just the past three years. And a massive 75% of companies anticipate even more extensive changes in the next three years.

Organisational change comes in many shapes and sizes. It may be helpful to think of organisational change along a spectrum – on one end, there are adaptive changes—those necessary tweaks and adjustments we make to stay current. On the other end, there are the transformational changes – the big, bold overhauls that aim to completely rethink how an organisation operates at a fundamental level.

Adaptive organisational changes are typically minor, incremental changes that organisations undergo to address evolving business needs or external pressures. Adaptive changes usually take the form of minor, internally managed projects. Some examples might be updating customer service protocols or increasing training for new hires.

On the other end of the spectrum, transformational changes are much larger scale and typically affect the entire company and all of its stakeholders. Here we are talking about large scale organisational redesign and restructuring, collective redundancies and layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, and so on.

In between these two ends of the spectrum of organisational change, there are countless other examples of organisational change like updating core business policies, introducing a new enterprise technology, performance improvement programmes, restructuring leadership teams… the list goes on.

In today’s climate, it’s important that organisations do not turn a blind eye to the need for change – the risks of standing still, as we will discuss later in this post, are just too high. 

What is Change Management?

Techtarget defines change management as:

“… a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organisation’s goals, processes and technologies. The purpose of change management is to implement strategies for effecting and controlling change and helping people to adapt to change.”

By effectively managing change, organisations can enhance their performance, maximise employee engagement, and ensure that changes are lasting and meaningful.

The Importance of Effective Change Management

Statistics from Gartner highlight a stark reality of most change management projects. According to that study – half of all organisational change initiatives fail and only around 34% unambiguously succeed. These figures underline, not only the importance of effective change management, but the difficulties in actually getting change management projects right.

Effective change management ensures that our organisational change initiatives are successful by ensuring change is managed in a manner that is aligned with strategic goals whilst keeping operational disruption and resistance to a minimum. Poor change management, on the other hand, brings with it a myriad of risks.

The risks associated with poor change management are significant and far-reaching:

  • Loss of market position: Poorly managed change initiatives, even those that are not considered transformational in nature, can lead to a loss of market position as organisations fail to adapt to new market demands or technology advancements effectively.
  • Senior Management Turnover: Stagnation, or worse, regression, as a result of poorly implemented organisational change can ultimately lead to turnover of senior management who will likely be held accountable for the fallout.
  • Loss of key employees: When change projects are managed ineffectively, top talent may be more likely to jump ship. High level employees tend to seek environments that are not only stable but also forward thinking and adaptable. An organisation that fails to manage change effectively may push employees towards employers that they perceive as more dynamic or modern.
  • Decline in employee engagement: Even if employees do not leave, employee engagement and motivation can plummet. A workforce’s morale and motivation tends to be dependent on how change is communicated and implemented. Without a clear understanding of what changes are happening, why, and what their roles in these changes are, employees can feel undervalued and disempowered.
  • Loss of Credibility: Ineffective change management can severely damage an organisation’s credibility. Stakeholders, whether they are investors, partners, or customers, rely on the stability and predictability of their associations with the organisation. When changes are managed poorly, it not only erodes trust but can also deter future investment and support.
  • Legal challenges and punishments: Particularly when it comes to major transformational changes, it is important to ensure that change is managed compliantly within your organisation, in line with employment legislation. Poorly managed restructuring or rightsizing projects that include layoffs, for example, can lead to costly (in terms of time and resources) unfair dismissals cases in front of the Workplace Relations Commission. Whilst mismanaged collective redundancies can lead to employer fines of up to €250,000.

To avoid such risks, robust change management processes should be viewed as a critical component of strategic execution in any organisational change project.

The reality of transformational organisational change in Ireland in 2024

In 2024, Irish organisations find themselves in the middle of an unique environment, shaped by a mixture of economic, regulatory, technological, and industry-specific factors, that sees the trends for both layoffs & redundancies and mergers & acquisition on the rise. 

Layoffs and redundancies are not a new phenomenon for employers in Ireland, but there has undoubtedly been an increased prevalence in recent times – in March of this year, the Business Post reported that companies notified the government of nearly 1,800 planned job cuts in February, the third-highest number recorded in a single month over the past three years.

Whilst 2023 saw declines in mergers and acquisitions globally, according to a report by Philip Lee, the trend in Ireland continues to rise.mergers and acquisitions ireland

According to that report, 794 M&A deals were reported to Experian, making it the busiest year ever in terms of volume of deals.

And despite the global backdrop of negative economic and political news, the Business Post reports that the number of mergers and acquisitions deals in Ireland increased 14 per cent at the beginning of 2024, outperforming a global slump of 31 per cent.

As such, major change management projects are becoming more and more prevalent in the Irish market and ensuring that such change is managed compliantly and in line with the latest employment legislation is hugely important.

Factors to consider in the change management process

So it’s clear that the stakes are high when it comes to organisational change projects. When approaching change initiatives, there are many factors to consider to ensure that you mitigate these risks. From our perspective, here at The HR Suite, these  factors can be broadly split into two categories – organisational level factors and employee level factors (or employee resistance). In this section we will discuss factors across both categories as well as some tips to manage risks associated with each group.

Organisational-level Factors in the Change Management Process

When it comes to implementing change within the workplace, organisational-level factors play a pivotal role in determining the success of change management strategies. Some organisational / process level factors include:

  • Organisational culture: Agile organisations that have worked on building a healthy and forward thinking culture have a clear advantage when it comes to effective change management. It’s important to build an organisational culture that encourages innovation, learning, and the willingness to embrace change. And the building blocks of this culture should already be in place well in advance of major transformational change projects.
  • Company-wide planning and communication: Arguably the most important factor to consider, when it comes to effective change management, is solid planning and transparent communication of those plans. All stakeholders within the organisation undertaking the change project need to be on the same page and clearly understand the objectives of the project. This involves communicating the why, what, and how of the change process consistently across all levels of the company.
  • Leadership: Unsurprisingly, leadership plays a pivotal role in steering organisational change. In fact, a study in the International Review of Management and Marketing in September 2023, identified a number of leadership qualities needed for effective change management including good communication skills, management’s support and commitment, setting compelling goals for change and leading by example.
  • Project management: Project managers also play a significant role in facilitating organisational change. Change management projects are usually new and quite daunting and generally require meticulous management in order to be unambiguously successful. 
  • Stakeholder engagement: We will discuss one specific stakeholder – employees – in much more detail later in this article. However it’s important to understand that employees are not your only stakeholders – in fact anyone affected by the change initiative is a stakeholder. This may include business partners, investors, customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies, etc.

Organisational-Level Tips for Managing Change

Now that we have outlined the organisational level factors involved in organisational change, here are our top six tips for managing change from a process/organisation perspective:

1. Assess Change Readiness:

Before engaging in a change management initiative, you should assess the organisation’s readiness to embrace new ways of working. This involves evaluating the existing systems, processes, and culture to ensure the organisation is prepared for the planned initiative.

2. Understand the Process of Change:

Recognize that change is a process that involves managing expectations, transitions, and outcomes. Being aware of this process helps in planning more effectively and addressing potential challenges proactively.

3. Create a Plan:

Fail to prepare – prepare to fail. We’ve already touched on the importance of both company-wide planning and project management. A detailed plan acts as a roadmap for change. It should outline the objectives, key actions, responsibilities, timelines, and KPIs for success.

4. Follow a Change Management Model:

Implementing change according to a structured model provides clarity and direction. The HR Suite views Lewin’s Change Management Model as a simple but effective model to adopt when managing change. In a nutshell, there are three phases in Lewin’s model:

  • Unfreeze: This involves preparing the organisation for the initiative by understanding the need for change and getting ready to move away from the current state.
  • Change: This stage involves executing the intended changes and the actual transition where new processes, ideas, and behaviours are introduced.
  • Refreeze: This is a critical stage in which the organisation must ensure that the changes are solidified into the organisation and the new norms are established.

5. Develop Techniques to Manage Resistance:

Develop strategies to deal with resistance, such as involving resistors in the change process, providing clear reasons for change, and listening to stakeholder concerns.

6. Effectively Measure Change and Key Learnings:

Establish metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the change initiatives. This not only assesses the impact but also identifies areas for improvement and captures key learnings for future change projects.

Employee Resistance in the Change Management Process

Change management isn’t just about altering organisational structures or processes – it’s fundamentally about people. Studies show that one of the most common failures to change is employees’ attitudes toward change. Therefore, understanding and managing employee resistance to change is crucial to the success of any change initiative.

Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox once stated that “an organisation’s greatest asset is its employees”. When it comes to change management projects though, employees arguably also become your biggest risk. According to a 2008 Academy of Management Review study, employees often develop a sense of fear, and perceive the introduction of change as an unfair act. 

For even relatively minor changes, employees may worry about a disruption to established hierarchies or routines. For major restructuring projects, staff may understandably worry about the threat to their job security. Such resistance, if not managed properly, can slow down or completely derail change initiatives.

The Crucial Role of People in Change Management

Leading people through change is often the most challenging aspect of any transformation. How effectively the workforce accepts, adapts to, and rises to new challenges determines whether a business will succeed or falter. As we have already touched upon, employees are not just passive recipients of change; they are active agents whose engagement can make or break the change process. Research has shown that successful organisational change depends on employees feeling positive about, and willing to adopt, any proposed changes

I’m sure most readers will be aware, even anecdotally, of well-intentioned organisational changes that have led to unintended negative consequences. For instance, the introduction of new flexible working arrangements might be aimed at improving work-life balance but could isolate those who thrive in a structured office environment or lack the resources to work effectively from home. Similarly, inclusivity programs designed to promote diversity might inadvertently alienate groups who feel that such initiatives do not address their concerns or that the changes are too sudden and not integratively planned. Those are two examples of the importance of managing the people side of change in relatively minor change projects. When dealing with larger, transformational change at an organisational level, the success or failure of the project usually hinges on the people factor. Care must be taken to manage major organisational change effectively when it comes to both employees that remain in the organisation (e.g. to ensure morale and productivity are not negatively impacted) and those who may be laid off (e.g. to avoid legal pushback and significant reputational damage).

Tips for encouraging employees to buy into change

So we’ve established that managing change requires ensuring that all employees are on board and committed to the initiative. With that in mind, here are our six tips to foster employee buy-in when it comes to change projects that fall outside of the major transformational change category (i.e. organisational restructures, collective redundancies, etc.):

1. Pitch the Change with a Compelling Story ('The Why' / WIIFM):

Be upfront with employees by clearly articulating the reasons behind the change. Employees need to understand ‘What’s In It For Me’—how the change will benefit them, not just the organisation. A compelling narrative can help make this connection, providing a personal and emotional engagement with the change.

2. Communicate Continuously and Effectively with Employees:

Open, honest, and continuous communication is key. Keep lines of communication open throughout the project, not just at the start to ensure that employees feel informed and involved throughout the process.

3. Enlist Change Champions:

Identify and empower key influencers within the organisation who can act as change champions. These change advocates can help their peers understand the rationale behind change initiatives and adapt to new ways of working.

4. Provide Training on New Changes and Processes:

Especially when it comes to tech or systems related change initiatives, you must ensure that all employees have the required knowledge and skills to navigate the new systems or processes. Adequate training supports smoother transitions and reduces anxiety about new ways of working.

5. Continually Support Your Staff:

Change doesn’t end with implementation. Embedding change successfully requires reinforcing new behaviours and ensuring they are integrated into everyday business practices. Continuous support and reinforcement help solidify the new changes as part of the organisational culture. Be present and accessible, provide resources for dealing with change, and show empathy for the challenges employees face.

6. Gather Feedback Throughout and Manage Resistance Transparently:

Encourage feedback and take it seriously. This not only helps in identifying areas of resistance but also in understanding the specific concerns of different employee groups. Address these concerns openly and make necessary adjustments to your strategies.


Tips for managing employees during major organisational restructuring

When it comes to large-scale restructuring of an organisation and / or collective redundancies, the challenges are different but the people factor is still huge.

1. Communicate openly and transparently with employees:

Throughout the restructuring process, you should provide regular updates on the changes and how they will impact individuals and teams. Encourage managers to have one-on-one conversations with their team members to address concerns and offer support.

2. Prioritise fairness, respect, and empathy:

Throughout the process, treat employees with dignity and provide support services such as outplacement assistance to help affected employees to transition to new opportunities. Consider communicating externally about the organisation’s commitment to supporting employees during times of change.

3. Involve employees in the decision-making process:

Where possible, employees should feel that they have input into major decisions. Solicit employee input on matters that affect them. Actively listen to their concerns and feedback, and demonstrate a commitment to addressing their needs.

4. Ensure that the organisation complies with all relevant legal requirements:

Throughout the change process, whether it’s an organisational restructure, rightsizing, collective redundancy, merger/acquisition, or any other major upheaval, compliance with legal requirements is paramount. The Protection of Employment Acts, 1977 – 2014, Redundancy Payments Act, 1967, Unfair Dismissal, Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 – 2015, The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts, 1973-2005 may all come into play during change projects of this nature. It is highly advisable to seek advice from legal professionals or HR consultants to understand obligations and minimise legal risks.


Looking For Expert Change Management Support?

Regardless of the type of change management project at hand, the experts here at The HR Suite are here to help. We offer in person and online (both guided and e-learning) training to support internal teams across a range of areas – from customer support to managing a hybrid team to diversity and inclusion and much more.

For larger transformational change projects, our experts can guide your HR team through the process or even conduct the process on your organisation’s behalf. We can assist with change management projects of any kind including:

  • Collective Redundancy Protocol
  • Headcount Reduction / Rightsizing
  • Organisational Restructures
  • Transfer of Undertaking and Protection of Employment regulations (TUPE)
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Performance Improvement Programmes
  • Trade Union Negotiations

 Learn more about our change management project support or get in touch with us to discuss your change management requirements.

author avatar
Ciarán Finnegan Chief Operating Officer
Ciarán is responsible for overseeing all operational aspects of The HR Suite including strategic planning, process optimisation, and driving growth initiatives. Ciarán brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this critical leadership role. Prior to joining The HR Suite, Ciarán had a long and prosperous career in the human resource field as the Head of HR at Sodexo for Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ciarán has a BA in Economics, MSc in Management and started his career in hotel operations management before transitioning into human resources.