What is change management and how can you inspire people through change?

23 June 2020

Annie-Claude Bélisle Denis, Manager, Advisory |

Did you miss our recent People Advisory webinar on how you can inspire your people through change?

Below, we’ve shared some highlights from the session and outlined several key ways organisations can inspire their people through change. To watch the full webinar recording or register for our upcoming People Advisory webinars, see our 2020 People Advisory Webinar series.

An overview of our speakers:

Leading the webinar was Annie-Claude Bélisle Denis, who with Vanessa Vaillant are BDO’s change management experts in the People Advisory team in Sydney.

Joining them was Jenine Waters, BDO National Leader for People Advisory, and Maryanne Carter, an Associate Director in the Sydney People Advisory team. Recently Jenine and Maryanne have published their first report - Paradigms, Perception & Performance: overcoming crisis through people – where they help businesses and organisations navigate the people challenges that arise during times of crisis.

We were also joined by guest speaker, Grant Saxon, the Office Managing Partner for BDO in Sydney who shared his perspective how change management has helped BDO.

What is Change Management?

Change management is an approach that many people still find hard to define today. Starting the webinar, Annie-Claude Bélisle Denis asked the panel how they would define change management and explain what they think it entails.

Jenine Waters, BDO’s National Leader for People Advisory believes that change management is all about shifting behaviours.

"In today’s world, change has become the norm and when I think about change, it's all about shifting behaviour. Whether it's a system or cultural shift, or an organisational restructure, change management is about trying to make sure that the behavioural shifts you want to happen become a reality,” Jenine Waters says.

Jenine further explains that a common trap leaders fall into when trying to drive organisational change is not engaging key people affected throughout the process. For change management to be effective and lasting, Jenine says your approach needs to be more than sending a few emails or inviting staff to lunch and learns.

"Change management is actually about bringing your people on the journey for change, and listening rather than talking to understand who is impacted by this change and how,” says Jenine.

 For leaders looking to undertake a change management project in their organisation, Jenine says that the first thing they should do is reflect on what they want to achieve with the project. Her top three questions leaders should ask themselves are:

  1. Who are the people that you're impacting with this change?
  2. What's important to them?
  3. How will you bring them along on that change journey?

Vanessa Vaillant, Change Manager at BDO, says while change is a buzz word today, many leaders find it challenging to articulate what change management means for their organisation because many, different technical definitions are available. Like Jenine, Vanessa explains that in her view, change management needs to be less about the definitions and more focussed on understanding the needs of their people.

…Change management is about acknowledging and recognising when you're fundamentally changing how someone does their job and then identifying what support they need to embrace and adopt whatever the change or new way of working is.”

Vanessa further explains that one of the key things leaders forget when it comes to driving change is that it’s not the organisation that’s changing, but the people. As such, leaders must be taking the right approach that encourages people to embrace change and effectively support them as they adopt those changes into their jobs.

Who are the right people to lead change management in an organisation?

Who will drive the change, is one of the top questions asked by leaders and key stakeholders when it comes to a change project – and depending on who you ask there can be many answers.

Speaking to Maryanne Carter, an Associate Director in BDO’s Sydney team about this issue, Annie-Claude asked how change management results can differ when it’s led by different types of leaders, such as change managers, HR experts and HR business partners.

Maryanne says that for change management to be successful, it’s vital that it is led by people with change management experience and expertise.

“While there are many great and knowledgeable HR professionals out there, very few people have an in-depth understanding of change management. If you approach change management from just an HR perspective, your approach can be too narrow, often focusing on just changing a specific task without realising the flow-on effects it will have on the entire organisation,” Maryanne Carter says.

Maryanne says, for complex change projects the need for a change management expert is even more critical. This includes, introducing new processes, systems, technology or people. In these situations, a change management experience is vital for ensuring that all the elements introduced align and work together - otherwise this change can negatively impact the people doing the work and lead to further barriers to change in the future.

What is one of the top challenges when it comes to driving change in organisations and how can change managers combat this?

Now that we have an understanding of what change management is and how it should be led in an organisation, it’s important to think about some of the challenges you may face during your change journey and how you can overcome them.

Vanessa Vaillant says one of the top challenges she comes across when working with leaders is that change isn’t always exciting and so leaders can find it hard to feel enthusiastic about some change projects.

“When it comes to change, the reality is that not every change is exciting and innovative. Sometimes change can come simply from the result of regulatory shifts in environment or factors that are completely outside of your control. Therefore, it’s important to work collaboratively with leaders to understand where that gap in inspiration for change is coming from and help them see the purpose and benefits of change to grow their enthusiasm and desire for it,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa explains that the reason why enthusiasm for change is so important at a leadership level is that the way leaders approach a change defines whether it will be a success, or not as well as the impact it will have on your organisations’ culture.

Some of the common issues she sees in those at the leadership level include:

  • Difficulty in seeing why the organisation needs to change, or the value of change
  • Resistance to new ideas or changes with company-wide impacts and involvement, yet originate from one area of the organisation
  • Anxiety due to an existing lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities which may now be highlighted to others as a result of the change process
  • Low interest or drive to implement change due to insufficient tools or support available
  • Fear of being ‘left behind’ or making the wrong decision as a result of a lack of knowledge or information about the change and its goals and implications.

To address these concerns and more, Vanessa says the best thing change managers and drivers can do is to be understanding and help leaders and key stakeholders work through their different reactions to change.

“Helping leaders understand the critical role they need to play, and how best we as change managers can help them is critical. It is hard work as a leader to be driving a change in an organisation on top of your already busy day-to-day activities. Therefore, you must help them to stay focussed and keep moving forward. Staying connected to your ‘why’ and listening to your people will also be important during this time,” says Vanessa.

How is change management playing a role at BDO?

Grant Saxon, has been leading ‘Project take-off’, which aims to help make BDO in Sydney a more flexible workplace. 

“When I became the Managing Partner for BDO Sydney several years ago, I quickly noticed that while our workplace had been physically designed to allow flexible working to take place, the way it was being used was a long way from being truly agile. There were workflows still being caught up in old habits with people occupying desks full of stuff and this was preventing people from truly collaborating,” says Grant Saxon.

Grant says that as the firm was evolving and experiencing a strong phase of growth they were also encountering more pressures on space.

“…We decided that we needed to look beyond just acquiring more floor space or re-arranging the office, but focus instead on listening to how our people need to work and build the workplace around our people and our culture,” says Grant.

When asked by Annie-Claude, how change management is helping this time, Grant explains that there have been two main benefits:

  1. Working closely with those at BDO who are ‘resistors’ or ‘detractors’ to change and help them become change agents. As everyone has their reason for embracing or resisting change, leaders need to understand what those reasons are and how this can influence others – positively or negatively - within the firm. 
  2. Focussing on understanding the needs of different groups and people within BDO. By understanding what different groups needed out of a flexible work environment, BDO was able to establish their ‘why’ and bring everyone along the change journey.

To hear more on how change management is helping BDO Sydney become a more flexible workplace, make sure to watch the webinar recording.


A final note and challenge

“When it comes to change, it’s important to remember it’s all about the team, not the individual. While we look to our leaders for guidance and inspiration, an organisation is still only as strong and successful as its people. Therefore, change needs to be embraced and championed by people at all levels so the new way of doing things becomes part of the organisations’ culture.” - Annie-Claude Bélisle Denis

So, now that you have an overview of what change management is, its benefits and how you can inspire the people in your organisation through change, we challenge you after reading this to take five minutes to think about what you would do differently in your organisation and how?

If you have any questions about change management, our People Advisory team here in Sydney or how you can inspire your people through change please don’t hesitate to contact Annie-Claude Bélisle Denis or your local People Advisory team.