The Challenge of Change: A New Zealand case study

  • Derek Roger

One of the consequences of a recession is a greater need for evidence when making decisions about how to spend a diminishing budget. It might require very little thought: someone comes up with a machine that produces the widgets you manufacture in half the time at less cost, and you were having to replace the old machines anyway. In other cases the decision might be more difficult, especially with training in ‘soft’ skills.

Hard evidence for training programmes like these can only be obtained by rigorous and carefully controlled research, and unfortunately there are few studies that really meet the criteria. Satisfactory evidence comes from studies where a large group of employees can be randomly allocated to experimental and control groups. The first group is then given the target training, while the latter either remains untrained or is given dummy training. The groups are then compared on impact assessments administered before and afterwards, using an interval between initial and follow-up testing long enough to avoid response bias. Any differences between the groups can then be tested for statistical significance.

Two properly controlled case studies of the effectiveness of the Challenge of Change Resilience programme have been carried out. The first involved a large sample of UK Police officers who were allocated to two groups, one of which received the CoC Resilience programme while the other received dummy training (conventional stress management). Participants in the groups did not have contact with one another, and unbeknown to them, their sickness-absence levels were monitored from the period prior to the study. The results, which were published in the International Journal of Stress Management, showed a significant reduction in sickness-absence amongst the CoC Resilience-trained group compared with controls which was sustained over the 18-month follow-up.

The second, more recent study was based on two teams from Meridian Energy in Christchurch, one of which received the Challenge of Change Resilience programme while the other did not. They were both assessed on a range of psychometric indices that emerged from my research programme, which began at the University of York in England and continues at the University of Canterbury.

The aim of the research was to identify the personality factors that either protected people from stress or made them more vulnerable, and the assessment of the Meridian teams was based on the key dimensions of rumination and detached coping. High scores on rumination indicate less resilience and poorer efficiency and performance, hence low scores are preferable. High scores on detached coping indicate an ability to keep issues in perspective; detached copers have greater resilience and adaptability to change, and are significantly better decision-makers. The teams were also assessed on the CoC Climate Survey developed as part of the Challenge of Change training suite, which is based on four key dimensions labelled management style, empowerment, workload and communication. Higher scores on all four indicate a more positive corporate climate.

The trained team was assessed on the resilience and climate survey dimensions before the training and then again 12 months later, while the untrained team completed the assessments twice separated by the same 12-moth interval. The results showed that the scores for the two teams were not different on the first administration of the tests. By the second testing, the average scores for the untrained controls had not changed, but the averages for the experimental team that had received the CoC Resilience programme had increased significantly for detached coping and three of the climate survey dimensions - Management Style, Empowerment and Communication – and had decreased significantly for rumination. The findings provide further controlled evidence for the effectiveness of the Challenge of Change training.

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