Blog report: Managing change seminar, 13 May 2013

A report on the latest NetIKX seminar on Managing change, held in London on 13 May 2013. Our speakers were Lesley Trenner, Change Coach and Janet Kaul, Knowledge Officer, NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre. The successful management of change is essential for organisations in order to achieve positive outcomes when implementing new or revised policies, procedures and projects.  During the seminar we discussed how to go about successful change management.

Lesley Trenner, @LesleyTrenner
Why change doesn’t ‘just happen’ …however good the idea is 

Lesley has a wealth of experience, including several years spent working at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). As a change coach, she now spends her time coaching people one-to-one when they are going through changes in their personal and professional lives.

At GSK Lesley experienced constant reorganisations, software changes and budget reductions. She observed that it is how well the change is managed that really makes a difference to successful change.

Change management is needed when there’s a change in politics, structures, culture, technology etc. Nowadays it is often used as a euphemism for cutting costs and reducing people. Ideally it should not be that – but lots of jobs advertised for Change Managers do involve doing that.

‘Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine’ – Lesley Trenner

How staff deal with change

People tend to resist change. Typical responses from employees confronted with major change will include: “Why didn’t they ask me?”, “Things ain’t broke”, “What’s in it for me?” or “Does it mean I will lose my job?”.

The majority of change projects fail – countless studies have found between a 60-80% failure rate for organisational change projects. For example, the doomed National Health Service Programme for IT lost a considerable amount of money. Project management and technology issues dogged the programme; ultimately trying to force people onto one system didn’t work.

Tips for managers 

Before embarking on change, managers should first:

  • Define what the change is, and what the benefits will be
  • Identify the impact on stakeholders – who are they, where are they?
  • Provide motivation and reinforcement – closing down old IT systems could force people onto a new system, but instead they might resort to scrappy pieces of paper. Users of new systems can be rewarded; or alternatively sanctions can be put on those resisting change.
  • Find sponsors and champions – influential staff who will speak up for the new system


Managers should work out what tone they want their communication to have. Is the aim to reassure, inform or maybe even scare? Communication messages should be tailored to different stakeholder groups. It also needs to be two-way – getting people’s feedback so that they feel heard is important, even if you can only say “Sorry, we need to do this anyway”.

Usually using a variety of communication methods to break the news is best. Telling staff by email can be cold and clinical, but on the other hand it can be useful for people to have something to refer to.

Lesley gave us an example from her own personal experience: GSK wanted to encourage smart working/hot desking at its headquarters in Brentford, to save space. Rather than everyone having their own desk, employees were asked to either work at home or come into work and sit at any desk available. There was a lot of resistance at first because staff were used to having their own desk, or even their own office if they were a manager.

To encourage acceptance of the new policy, the Vice-President of the department gave up her office straightaway. E-mails were sent round asking people for suggestions to give the environment a more ‘teamy’ atmosphere. Anyone leaving towels or other objects on desks at the end of the day would be reprimanded by designated change ‘sponsors’. The changes saved the company a million pounds.

Lesley’s key tips

  • Be really clear what’s going to change and why
  • Anticipate what the reaction will be – think of ways to get people on side
  • Recruit active sponsors and champions

Janet Kaul, Knowledge Officer, NHS Health & Social Care Information Centre
Online communities: Herding the scary cats

Janet’s talk focused on how to develop online communities during organisational changes and prove their value. Online communities have an important role to play in our society – some have changed the world… Indymedia (started World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests), Occupy Wall Street, Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign via (he set up natural and real  communities in every state, which Obama copied for his election campaign) and most famous of all, Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

Why create an online community?

  • To share information
  • Establish trust between people
  • Increase traffic – another way to get customers on your side
  • Reach new customers
  • Learn what customers think – but don’t tell them what to think online. Don’t guide your community to only say what you want them to say


‘If you build it they will come’ doesn’t work for online forums. Janet has found that to boost intranet usage amongst staff it pays to keep an ear open. Chip into personal conversations and suggest people post questions on the intranet forum to try and find answers.

‘For sale’ ads are usually the most popular section on a staff forum. Good online managers push ads, for example by sending them out to personal contacts who might be interested. Janet was very pleased when she helped a staff member find a new home for her rabbit and received a message saying “Thank you for finding a home for our bunny. You made my son very happy.”

Things to consider:

  • You are asking for trouble if you don’t have a moderation policy
  • There’s no totally automated forum moderation software – someone will need to spend time looking through posts
  • Incentivising people to post more often by rewarding them with more responsibilities or prizes


Anecdotes of success are priceless; store them – Janet Kaul

  • Collect your stories of success. Anecdotes are priceless; people remember them. Store them. For instance, a tip Janet shared led to a member of staff replying with a grateful comment – “This tip has saved my life. Not to mention hours of work.”
  • Provide answers to questions you hear by the water cooler
  • Start a competition. Perhaps everyone who posts something gets put into a draw to win a small prize each month.
  • Have a photo gallery for staff pets – this was very popular when first started at Microsoft


  • Reward participation (with status, praise or prizes)
  • Ask thought-provoking questions
  • Maintaining a community well takes lots of time and effort!

Further reading:

Blog post by Emily Heath. Many thanks to both our speakers.

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