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Whatever your politics, it's clear that the short-lived UK Prime Minister Liz Truss and her cabinet were determined to deliver change. They had no shortage of ambition in this vein. But they did lack a key change-management tool: listening.

A plan for growth

Within a month of Liz Truss becoming Prime Minister this September, her newly appointed Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng set out a fiscal statement including a raft of tax changes designed to deliver what Kwarteng described as, "a virtuous cycle of growth". One of these was the abolition of the highest rate of tax (45%), which applied only to high earners.

As a result of Kwarteng's statement, markets crashed (with the pound dropping to a record intraday low) and poll numbers plummeted. Despite this, both Kwarteng and Truss defended the policy. "Are you absolutely committed to abolishing the 45-pence tax rate for the wealthiest people in the country?" the BBC asked Truss on 2 October. "Yes," said the then Prime Minister.

The U-turn

The very next day the abolished tax rate was reintroduced. Truss and Kwarteng communicated this sudden change of heart in co-ordinated fashion. In Truss's speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 3 October, she said, "I get it and I have listened”. Speaking to the same audience on the same day, Kwarteng echoed his boss. "I get it," he said, "I get it. We are listening. And have listened."

Yet neither Truss nor Kwarteng demonstrated that they had listened at all. Both stated that the abolition of the 45p tax rate had become "a distraction" from their wider plans and that was the reason they were making the U-turn. Neither gave any indication that they had heard people’s concerns or that they had gained any understanding of why people were so unhappy about the policy. It's no wonder the Economist wrote, on the day of the U-turn, that Truss and Kwarteng had defused a "political implosion" but achieved nothing else.

From battle to consensus

It's evident that both Truss and Kwarteng wanted to move past the tax cut U-turn so they could get on with delivering the rest of their "Growth Plan", but their failure to listen was always going to make that difficult. From Truss's conference speech, it's clear she views driving through change as a battle. She talks about she, herself, making hard choices, about not "giving in" to a whole range of people who might challenge or question those choices and about "staying the course". But delivering major change shouldn't be a battle. It should be a collaborative, cooperative venture, where differing views are welcomed, discussed and debated.

The most successful change-management programmes engage in dialogue with the people affected by the change. They give people a voice to air their concerns and help those leading change to understand what matters and why. If you understand what matters to stakeholders, you can build consensus and talk about change in a way that resonates with them. Saying, "I get it" or "I've listened" convinces no-one. If you truly listen, you're able to reflect back what you've heard and demonstrate how change delivers what people actually want.

Truss and Kwarteng's comments and statements following the U-turn did neither of these things. Is it any surprise, then, that just 17 days after Kwarteng and Truss had delivered their "I get it" duets, both were out of office? Of course, there are myriad lessons that can be learned from this chaotic time in British politics, but, for me, Truss and Kwarteng's brief tenures highlight that even those in positions of exalted power need to stop, listen and reflect if they want to effect major change.

Anna Faherty is an author for accountingcpd. To see her courses, click here.

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