What role does HR serve in effective, sustainable change management?
HR can positively contribute to a organizational change process, particularly if it is already well regarded as an advisor to the business. Unlike CEO’s, front-line supervisors, or middle management, HR can directly interact with every level, making them a unique and effective leverage point to sustain change.
They can play a key role in coaching and equipping line managers with the necessary skills to delivering the change message to their team, as well as identify gaps, roadblocks and change burnout to prevent the process from failing.
HR should always be involved and in the loop when change management plans are initiated. Their role in the process is essential, as they provide necessary information and preparing the business leaders to ensure that the transformation is managed well, with minimal impact on the employees. However, this doesn’t mean the task can be handed off to HR completely. In order for a change management strategy to succeed, each level of the organization must believe in and be active in the process (especially CEO’s!)
Here’s an excerpt from Changeboard that discusses the role of HR in change.
Key skills for HR in change
A major contribution HR can make in any change process is understanding the architecture, ensuring it is applied, and educating everyone involved: the leaders, the teams running work-streams and those directly and indirectly affected. This takes some skill to achieve and it is worth considering here some of the most important capabilities needed.
Recognising when change is happening
Change comes in many sizes: large, medium and small. It tends to gain people’s attention when it is large-scale and systemic, for example when a merger is underway, HR is going through full transformation, a company-wide IT system is being implemented or a company is relocating. In these circumstances there will usually be a project plan with multiple work-streams, access to the change leaders should be quite simple and HR will normally have a natural platform for ensuring the architecture of change is considered in constructing the plans. In smaller change situations, the fact that “change” is occurring at all is often missed and it proceeds unmanaged and without architecture.
Smaller changes need to be managed just as well and as thoughtfully as large ones and HR needs the skill to notice the smallest of them for what they are. For example the restructuring of a single department resulting in a few redundancies does not register on most people’s change Richter scale: it’s a redundancy exercise, not a change project. Wrong. For everyone in that department and anyone tangentially connected to them, it constitutes a huge change and should be managed accordingly, with attention to all four components of the architecture.
Sadly the focus is often on the robustness: complying with the law in executing the redundancies, while ignoring how well-thought through the plan is in the first place, how expected or unexpected it will be given the company’s history and what the emotional impact on those remaining will be.
A plan to hire a single senior person can be a big enough event to benefit from being examined from a change architecture perspective and HR’s role is to have it recognised as such.
Lucky the HR practitioner whose advice is followed without challenge and who is consulted oracle-like before any action is taken toward change. More often, change is already underway by the time HR is first involved: thought processes gone through; decisions have been made; perhaps even action taken.
Entering the change process at this stage, HR must be able to assess how sound the reasoning is, how much the readiness has been examined, how robust the plans for solutions are and how much attention is being paid to the effect on the people. Any weaknesses or gaps found in the assessment put HR in the position of needing to slow things down and get their clients to re-examine earlier decisions, assumptions or actions. It is impossible to do this without strong influencing skills.
Influence is underpinned by credibility and made easier through relationship and HR practitioners must devote energy to establishing their credibility and building their relationships widely so that when the time comes to need to influence, the ground will be fertile. The art of influence is knowing when to push and when to pull; when to ask and when to tell; when to pace the client and when to lead. It is knowing how to insist without dogmatism; how to compromise without folding; and how to withdraw leaving the way open for future progress.
Without influence, the HR practitioner is confined to executing the will of the leaders and cannot add true value to the direction and management of change.
Lack of understanding or knowledge about impending change is one of the biggest causes of resistance and negativity.
Clear communication of facts as they become known is the ideal, but even if this is not possible, open communication about why decisions or facts cannot yet be released and an honest statement about when they might be known, and what people can do in the meantime, is better than nothing.
HR has a role to play in making sure implementers understand the importance of communication in engaging people, stabilising the environment, reinforcing the important change messages and preparing for the future. HR can help clarify messages and ensure that people understand the multiple channels available and the many forms communication can take: informal chats at the coffee machine; one-to-one and team meetings; formal briefings; town halls; emails; newsletters; intranet; podcasts and many more. HR can also use its many touch points with employees to play its own part in the communication process and can ensure that others are equipped to do the same.
In a communication void the rumour mill takes over, usually with damaging Results, and HR practitioners can use their knowledge, skills and opportunities to minimise the chances of this happening.
Diagnosis and planning
Rarely does the path of true change run smooth, and when projects stall or derail, HR has a key role to play.
Questions are a basic tool of the HR trade. Armed with a knowledge and understanding of the structure of change and the ability to ask the right questions, HR is perfectly placed to diagnose the most likely root cause of any problems that arise. Honing this skill and coupling it with the development or use of diagnostic tools and templates to enable others involved in the change to look at its structural soundness is another valuable contribution HR can make.
In the absence of good diagnosis, the tendency will be to treat the symptoms without understanding the nature of the disease.
Project planning is usually done as a matter of course when large-scale change is planned, but this discipline may be less rigorously applied in seemingly simpler situations.
HR can help set expectations and educate those involved by ensuring a comprehensive plan is laid out every time change is on the agenda. This will clarify the practicalities of who will do what and when and it will also provide an opportunity to ensure the whole change architecture is considered from the beginning.
Without a plan, it is hard to assess how much attention is being paid to each of the architectural elements of change, who is accountable for what, where progress has been made and what has still to be done.
A summary of change management
- Recognise that, however large or small, all changes benefit from a change management perspective.
- Use the architecture of change model as a template for designing the process.
- Use planning skills to lay out a comprehensive process, create a common understanding among all those involved, assign accountability and measure progress.
- Ensure attention is paid equally to all four components of the architecture
Be willing to be unpopular in insisting on revisiting missed or poorly executed steps once change is underway.
Use influencing skills to create sound project plans or redirect flawed change efforts.
Use diagnostic skills to determine the root cause of failing change projects.
Focus on communication and equip others to do the same.
Read the full article here.
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