Why People are Critical in the Change Process

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by Patrick Gallen, Partner, People & Change Consulting at Grant Thornton Ireland

The quote ‘change is the only constant’ pre-dates Socrates, to the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus who said ‘you can never enter the same river twice’.


This means, somewhere between 535BC and 475BC, we knew that change would be a challenge we would grapple with throughout the course of human existence. So why do organisations still find it so difficult to change?

Certainly there are a number of reasons, but generally, people find it difficult to leave behind old comforts, nurtured over years and decades to move towards something new, often unknown and not entirely predictable.

We have learned many lessons since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons has been that we must always be prepared for rapid change. For almost two years, it has been difficult to forecast the business landscape month-to-month in a way which we used to be able to predict with more certainty.

Something else we have been reminded of is that ‘people are an organisation’s greatest asset’. This  is not just a headline for the careers page, but is actually true. Without the dedicated people who make up an organisation, you cannot hope to meet company objectives or deliver excellent client service. People turn ideas into reality, they turn strategy into action.

So, when entering into a period of organisational change, it is essential to put people at the centre of this change. You need to take your people on a journey with you, and they must be willing to travel the distance. You must engage them, communicate your vision with them, and excite them about wanting to reach that destination.

How can you do this?

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Communicate early, communicate often. If people are not connected to the ‘what’ and ‘why’ in the change process, it is very difficult to convince them of the desired outcome. Taking the time to keep them updated on what’s going on within the organisation and how this fits into the overall plan, makes it much more likely they will be accepting of and excited about change.

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Find the key influencers within your organisation. Those people who have earned the trust and respect of their colleagues. Getting these people behind your programme for change allows you to spread the word more quickly and effectively, and you can use them as a sounding board to understand how change is being perceived throughout the organisation.

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Throughout the change process, employees may have lots of comments, questions and worries. It is essential that you listen to this feedback openly, validate it, and address it honestly. Even if you can’t address their concerns right away, ensure that you listen to them and let them know you will address them when you can.

Managing organisational change can be daunting, but that isn’t a reason to avoid it. Change, when managed correctly will inject energy and progress into your organisation, and will help you and all of your people reach new heights.

About the author

Patrick is the Partner leading Grant Thornton’s People and Change Consulting practice in Ireland. He has over 30 years of experience in People and Change, working right across Ireland, the UK and on a global basis. He specialises in delivering behavioural change through capability building, which can range from working on complex transformation projects right through to coaching senior Board members on a one-to-one basis. Patrick has deep cross-sectoral experience and his clients include large global banking and financial institutions, utility companies  and well-known global brands in the food and drinks sector. His clients in the public and semi-state sector include Government Departments in the UK and Ireland, including Treasury and Finance Departments, Transport, Health and Utilities.