Throw out the trash

Inspired by Neil Morrison’s recent post on why HR should hate change (, it reminded me of a true change story I heard a couple of weeks ago from someone from a large organisation.

This is the story from her persepctive…..

“We had this big change happen recently at work. The first we knew was when someone came to our office and told us we had half an hour to pack up all our things and move to the offices next door.

The blinds of the building were all closed, the access restricted. Nobody knew what was going on – apart from those inside of course.

Then a few weeks later it started.

People were called one by one into the building and then seen being escorted to their cars out the back door – you literally couldn’t make this stuff up!!

I was lucky, I survived. But others weren’t. We lost a third of our team that day. Including people who’d been on the inside track of the work. And including people in my team – my direct reports – which I knew nothing about until it happened.

What really rubbed salt in the wound was when the HR Director stood up to do a rallying speech after it had all been done and dusted. She praised and recognised the team who’d made it all happen. She did absolutely nothing – nothing! – to recognise the impact it had on everyone else. Not for those who’d left. Not for those who remained.”

The person I spoke to is looking for another job.


I was absolutely astounded that people could still think this was a great way to make a change happen and keep their teams engaged. That people could still think that spending a fortune on a ‘slash and burn’ of compromise agreements, and then spending another small fortune on sweeping up the mess left behind (they’re still, weeks later, trying to rebuild the team that was left in pieces) could be a good way to go.

Even if they thought it was a great approach, at least give people a reason why. Give some nugget of belief that those leading the change did have their heads screwed on at the time the decisions were being made.

But something that particularly bothers me with this kind of activity is the whole drama queen approach to ‘secret squirrel’ meetings, the ‘I’m more important than you because I know something you don’t know‘. Remind you of anywhere? Maybe the playground age 5?

It’s just not good enough. Because as soon as that mindset kicks in it becomes all about the people doing the change – they feel important and powerful, they will leave a ‘legacy’, they’ll have something big and juicy on their CV. And that causes them to stop thinking about others.

If you’re involved in change it’s possibly the single biggest responsibility you could possibly have. Made even bigger by changes that involve TUPEs or Redundancies.

Whatever’s going on, do it with care, treat people with dignity and respect, think about the whole thing from every angle. Consider those involved as customers and walk through their ‘customer journey’. Lead from the front and set that tone from the start.

And, ideally, have a really great reason why this change is important. Be really clear what the positive difference will be. Even if that positive reason is ‘this will stop us going out of business’.

But even better than all that, get creative, think of a completely different way to be successful without doing a ‘slash and burn’ change……because we all know change programmes don’t work, right? But that’s a post for another day.

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