A new survey identifies `people problems' as the main barrier to change in business, says Roger Trapp

Many businesses are unable to overcome barriers to change, although many of these are internal and have been recognised for years, says a survey published by Price Waterhouse Management Consulting yesterday.

"People problems", including lack of middle management support, employee opposition and lack of training, are still recognised as the biggest issue - 10 years after first being identified as a significant barrier. More than a third of respondents said that these were the biggest problems facing organisations going through change.

Moreover, the survey says that the extent to which businesses have failed to get to grips with the people problem in their own organisations is highlighted by the finding that four times as many respondents said they struggled to work across different parts of their own organisation as had problems working in different countries.

Another big problem concerned customers. Meeting customer demands is given as a reason for many change programmes, but few of the 500 business managers from 14 countries taking part in the survey said that consultation with customers was critical to the success of a programme. Fewer than 40 per cent thought it was important to consult with customers and only 30 per cent felt it was worth testing the likely success of a change programme through a pilot scheme before committing to it fully.

The survey also identified that few people charged with implementing change are dedicated full-time to it and properly trained for it - despite the scale of the change taking place. Currently, human resources people form the biggest group involved with implementing change programmes, but a whole range of specialisms, including information technology and marketing, are also involved.

Steve Redwood, PW partner, said he was disturbed by the findings that the "ongoing problem of people barriers has not been solved to any great extent" and that working across national barriers, with all the issues involved, seemed less of a challenge than working across different parts of an organisation.

However, he was reassured that some organisations had recognised that change was now so fundamental to business life that it justified a dedicated role, though the trend was "not yet widespread enough".

While a human resources manager would have some of the skills necessary, he or she would not necessarily possess the full range of expertise and time required. "In addition, the creation of a dedicated role signals that the organisation is genuinely committed to change."