New paper shows 'emotional, human aspects' key to avoid organisational change fatigue

Press Releases

18 Jul 2018

Organisations must put the emotional, human aspects of change at the forefront of any change initiative if it is to succeed, according to a new paper from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Authored by IES principal research fellow, Alison Carter, and IES honorary fellow, Sharon Varney, the paper, Change capability in the agile organisation, highlights how change fatigue has become a reality affecting many organisations in today’s fast-paced businesses. If organisations are to overcome this change-weariness and change-wariness, HR and senior leaders must address the human aspects of change.

With recent examples of organisations such as Marks and Spencer or Toys R Us that have struggled to adapt to changing internal and external pressures, the paper draws on IES’ extensive research into employee engagement and change to identify how organisations can avoid such a fate.

The paper cites five methods to engage the human aspects of change and improve an organisation’s ability to adapt effectively:

  • Listening – collect feedback and reflections from teams on previous change so lessons can be learned from what worked well or not so well.

  • Visioning – offer a compelling vision explaining why the future changed state will be better than the status quo for both customers and staff. Focus the vision at an emotional level: it is not sufficient to describe change only in terms of its rationality.

  • Embracing the heretic – do not silence those who express doubts early on in the change process. Let these contributors identify the pitfalls so that they can be avoided.

  • Reframing – enable teams to reframe the purpose to something that makes sense to them and their context.

  • Developing agile-smart leaders – organisations should discuss how team leaders can assist with creating organisational agility.  

If organisations engage these human aspects of change, the paper argues that they can improve change-capability: both having adaptable, responsive teams and a longer-term ability to anticipate when change is needed and, when necessary, to carry it out.

Dr Alison Carter, author of the paper, commented:

‘The failure rate of organisational change has remained constant over the last 40 years suggesting organisations haven’t been learning from past mistakes. A track record of not ‘doing change’ very well can be an organisational albatross. Leaders can facilitate useful conversations within their organisations about creating agility: what is currently helping/hindering and what might we be done to accelerate the process?’


Notes to editor

Copies of the IES paper Change capability in the agile organisation, are available to download here:

Interviews and further comment

Dr Alison Carter, author and IES principal research fellow, is available for comment. Please contact Mark Jack, Communications Officer:

01273 763 435 or

About Dr Alison Carter

Dr Alison Carter, principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, writes, speaks and consults on a range of HR, change and leadership development issues.

Her current research includes mindfulness and organisation readiness for change, but it is her evaluation of professional and leadership development programmes at work (especially coaching) for which she is recognised as an international expert.

She was a founding Director of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), Co-Chair of the 2nd Harvard International Coaching Research Forum and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)