Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Are your managers foreigners?

Here in Britain they call anyone who isn’t from Britain a ‘foreigner’. And even though I was born here and spent the first 12 years of my life in England, in the last few months I’ve felt well and truly like a foreigner.

The issue is that even though things look very similar to New Zealand – they are not.

Everything is called something slightly different. WOF’s are called MOT’s. GST is VAT. NZTA is DVLA. NZ Customs is called Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and it’s combined with Inland Revenue. All of the products that I knew in NZ mostly aren’t available here. Fraser and I have spent months finding the closest approximation we can to what we knew. It’s all the other stuff too. Buying a car and not knowing how it works. Going to McDonalds and ordering a combo to be asked rudely “Do you mean a MEAL?’. That’s what they call them here. There’s no FlyBuys – we’ve signed up for Nectar points. All the websites we used to buy things through are different.

And suddenly I realised something important.

In HR and OD we’re used to change. We’re often the ones who are planning the change roll out. We know the terminology. We understand why the company needs to change because we’ve seen the issues first hand being part of the senior management team.

We also know that our first line managers and team leaders will be the ones that make the change work. We rely on them to take their teams on the right journey to get to where the company wants to be.

But I think we assume they will get on board with the change too – because they’re used to change. They don’t need much support. Whether it’s a culture change, a new system, a building move, new products or changing structures – we figure that managers understand this stuff. It looks familiar to us, so it will be familiar to them. All they need is a set of comms about the  change and perhaps a short workshop – and off they go!

Yet 70% of change fails.

Having experienced being a foreigner in my own country the last couple of months – I realised that I’ve probably underestimated what change might feel like for many first line managers. When terminology changes, when systems suddenly don’t do what they used to or there’s a new system, when there’s a new culture that you’re supposed to live by – everything you once knew has changed even though it looks similar. And that’s almost worse than if it was completely different.

Because it’s similar, you’re expected to know how it works. But finding out all those little differences and being out of your comfort zone is tiring. It’s draining. It makes you want things to be like they were.

I think many managers probably feel like a stranger in a strange land during a change process. There are a number of things that we’ve missed providing when I’ve been part of change processes, and I know aren’t happening in many companies when they are doing a change process.

It’s things like:

  • Having a document with all the new terms in it
  • Creating a map of what used to be (FlyBuys) and what it is now (Nectar points).
  • Knowing who the expert is on how to do a thing that you’ve never had to do before (in my example buying a car, in a change process it would be about using the new system) so you can go and ask
  • Having some FAQ’s about how to do things – written by someone who isn’t familiar with it so they can ask the stupid questions that everyone is wondering but no-one wants to say
  • Having something familiar that hasn’t changed as a small piece of comfort (for me this was booking my flights back to NZ with Air NZ. It felt like old times using a familiar website!)
  • Having celebrations when managers have mastered the new way of doing it and letting them master it first before they’re supposed to train their team.

Much like when in HR you have to make yourself redundant (and find that it’s actually quite upsetting reminding you of what it’s like for employees), feeling like a stranger in a strange land has made me more aware of how we could better support managers when we are going through change.

So if you think your managers might be feeling like foreigners – take the time to think about what else you could provide to help them feel at home again.

As always I’d love to hear of any examples of things companies have done on this front. Please do feel free to share below so we can hear about any great ideas in this area!


Angela Atkins is a best-selling author and business entrepreneur who has been working to transform the HR profession. She is the People & Learning Director for Elephant – who run HR training, conferences and management development in both New Zealand and the UK. For more visit or 


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This entry was posted on August 17, 2016 by in Change management, human resources and tagged , , , , .
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