An overwhelming majority (85 percent) of companies have undergone at least one major strategic change in the past five years, according to a survey of more than 480 European human resources and change communications decision makers at leading multinational companies conducted by Penn Schoen Berland for Burson-Marsteller.


In addition, more than half of respondents (51 percent) said they expected more changes over the next two years, suggesting that companies will need to prepare their employees for further upheavals.


The top three changes expected in 2011 and 2012 are:

·       Organisational restructuring, predicted by 27 percent of companies, which would occur regardless of whether previous restructurings had already taken place

·       New strategic direction driven by the organisation, predicted by 22 percent 

·       Downsizing, predicted in almost one in five companies


"Employees tend to fear change. But change can offer opportunities. And handled well change can transform the performance of companies and organisations as well as the working lives of employees for the better," says Jeremy Galbraith, CEO, Burson-Marsteller EMEA. "True leaders, and the organisations they manage, embrace and navigate uncertainty by seeing change for what it is, a strategic weapon that ultimately links back to their corporate purpose."


The study also shows that despite the high volume of changes that have already taken place within companies, only 23 percent of in-house change management professionals feel confident in their ability to manage the process. Even fewer (18 percent) feel that the goals and scope of change are effectively communicated throughout the business.


One reason cited is that most companies are not good at communicating internally, or at engaging employees, on a day-to-day basis, making it even more difficult to do so during times of change. In addition, while 65 percent of decision makers said that having a change management plan in place was important to their companies - only half actually had one. Companies are also more likely to prepare plans for changes that they initiate, rather than for changes that may be driven by outside factors but which can still significantly impact their organization.


“Strategic change can be triggered by a number of factors, but companies are far more likely to view internally triggered changes as strategic, and externally driven changes as changes that happen to them and to which they must simply adjust and cope,” says Maria Sennels, global practice chair of organizational change and performance at Burson-Marsteller. “This ultimately affects the way in which companies approach change and their internal communications. Change professionals can do more to help position their company as emerging stronger from particular changes, rather than simply coping with them. The truth is that, in today’s reality, all changes can be strategic, regardless of their drivers.”