CIPD head accuses business leaders of making major organisation changes for their own gain

Senior business leaders need to explain to their workforces why they are conducting major change projects or they will fail, the president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned.

The call came from Professor Sir Cary Cooper who also suggested some mergers and acquisitions were done for reasons unrelated to the business.

Sir Cary addressed the issue relating to trust in senior management and how change programmes are executed at the launch of the Britain at Work report.

“Almost all mergers fail because they are conceived by people who are making decisions at the top level for their own careers in the end, or when they are done, even if it’s logical, it’s badly managed,” he said.

“Or the cultures should never have merged in the first place – because a merger is a marriage.”

Instead, he urged leaders to engage with employees and get their consent before progressing with such ambitious projects.

“You can talk about how we manage change, but it’s not really done because it’s not managed with the consent of the employees, and I think that’s the big issue. They are never or rarely brought in,” he continued.

“And there’s always legal reasons why they shouldn’t be brought in if it’s a merger or acquisition: ‘Well you can’t involve people, certainly you can’t tell them what’s going to happen’.

Justifying change

Ultimately, he said it came down to management justifying the reasons for the change project and convincing the workforce to come on the journey with them.

“Isn’t the issue that you have to answer the question ‘Why are we doing this?’,” he said.

“A lot of times, if you ask senior people they are doing it for motives totally unconnected with the business. And if it is connected with the business, why aren’t they finding out if the people within the business actually think it’s a good idea as well?

“I know naturally people are suspicious of change and so senior people say there’s no point asking them as they don’t want any change, but actually you’re not going to get sign-up and will lose people.

“Why mergers don’t work is because people don’t want to be involved in that change,” he added.

Building trust basecamp

The Britain at Work report, conducted by Opinium for Lansons, revealed that just 49% of employees trusted what their senior leaders said and only half (56%) agreed that senior leaders had set out a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve.

Lansons managing director Scott McKenzie added that there were good reasons to bring employees in on change programmes.

“Trust in leaders is at an all-time low. They just don’t trust their leaders,” he said.

“They may be trying to drive through a change programme for all the right reasons but you’re not starting from base camp, you’re starting from way behind it.

“The vast majority are doing it with the best intentions, they’re trying to reshape the business for the future, they’re trying to do the right thing, they’re just not very good at articulating it,” he added.

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