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Winning Hearts and Minds in Business

3rd April as a date may not mean an awful lot to many people. For one thing it isn’t a bank holiday, and there isn’t much in the news other than the ongoing debate between Messrs Clegg and Farage!

However, it was on this date in 1968 that America, sinking deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War, decided to start what it called a policy of ‘Vietnamisation.’ This basically meant that instead of simply imposing rules and discipline on the South Vietnamese people, they would work to win over as many of them as possible, encouraging them to buy into the changes being made to the country and thereby spread co-operation to their fellows.

Many intervening forces have used such approaches (more successfully than the Americans in ‘Nam’),and the same principles can be applied to the managing of a workforce.

From time to time managers need to make some change to the way business is done and therefore how their employees should be working or behaving. Sometimes this is just an update of contracts to reflect pay rises, promotions, or perhaps something like a relocation with a move to a different office.

Just as when an army lands on foreign soil, there will be those locals who are friendly and co-operative, those who are hostile, and most who simply don’t know what to think. The trick is not to run before you can walk. The introduction of change is usually most successful if you can start small and make adjustments incrementally over a period of time. Small changes tend to be more easily accepted than radical changes. It’s slower, but it gives you the chance to bring people with you and to make adjustments and corrections as you go. When changes need to be made, start by persuading those who are most likely to understand the rationale and respond positively. These “champions” have the business sense to understand that the company provides jobs and that if the company is to survive then sometimes changes have to be made, even if it’s challenging. Champions can often influence their fellow employees are the ones to bring on board early. Where they lead and demonstrate that they think the change is acceptable, others will follow.

Change often brings legitimate concerns, so management need to look for ways to address them or at least to provide transitional arrangements so employees can get used to the new situation. This is all part of the narrative to prove that those in charge are doing their best – and to make sure employees stay on side!

‘Winning hearts and minds’ is a bit of a funny phrase. How many employees can actually say they ‘love’ their managers? (If they do, they need to check the company workplace relationships policy!) But whenever change is needed, people get anxious – some get downright hostile, especially in a large workforce. Sometimes it’s not just about following the law to get the change through; the most cost-effective and efficient ways usually need some well thought out persuasion and above all, good presentation.

Here are our tips for winning hearts and minds in the change process.

  • Explain the reason for your choices and the changes you propose to make.
  • Create a culture of open communication.
  • Make sure your management team is involved in strategic planning.
  • Help managers be change coaches and create a “change” team.
  • Introduce change incrementally whenever possible.
  • Encourage contributions to the change process from employees.
  • Be empathetic about difficulties some employees may experience as a result of the change process.
  • Manage resistance positively.
  • Take the time to train to ensure people can fulfill job requirements.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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