Change is the new permanent, but no change is permanent! In a fast changing environment, organizations have to cope with new challenges every day - from changes in hiring decisions to changes in economic scenario, from changing compensation trends to managing mergers and acquisitions, from changes in leadership to expanding business in new markets. While the magnitude of the change might vary, changes often require doing things in a new way.
Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist, explained the process of change in three steps:
Unfreeze – When the existing ways need to be let go of
Transition – Adopting the change or the new way of doing things
Refreeze – Making the new way ‘business-as usual’ and a part of routine
The basis of these stages is the behavior of an individual in different situations and how he reacts to changes happening around. How this behavior is channeled in a positive way depends on the way it is managed as changes which have a direct impact on employees require the maximum coping with and might even prove tough to handle.
While a change management exercise can take place in any department or division of the company, HR is one domain that can get employees on-board with a change and can help them cope with each of the stages of Lewin’s change management process. Owing to its all-encompassing nature therefore, HR can play a pivotal role in initiating, managing and implementing people related changes. The vital roles that HR should play are:
Communication: For implementing any change or to ‘unfreeze’, it is important that there should be a ‘felt need’ to change the existing state of affairs. The onus of creating this felt need and making the individual realize this need lies on the top management and the HR communications team. Individuals should be convinced that that change is the alternative to their problems. Weekly communications, newsletters, posters in frequently visited areas such as cafeteria, team meetings etc. can prove to be effective methods to drive the need for a change and to cascade updates to the employees. If the communication is driven from the top rank holders of an organization, it is more likely to have a stronger impact on employees’ minds.
Involve: The state of transition is a very crucial one. Employees often want to be a part of important events and transitions concerning them. A sudden change can also be misconstrued as an imposition – which can increase the resistance to the change or worse, can even take the shape of a silent ‘rebellion’ in the minds of the employees. A planned approach can be used to involve employees through focus groups, workshops, demonstrations and department/team meetings. This way employee will feel that they are a part of the change and it is going to gradual and structured.
Enable: Changes often bring flux in lives of employees. In such a situation, they need to be empowered enough to be able to cope with and implement the change in their daily lives. For this, they should be supported with access to enough information and knowledge. HR should act as the change agent and should protect the workforce from any side effects of the change. This will build trust in the minds of employees for the management that there is sufficient handholding for them to adjust with the changes situation.
Sustain: It is very important to sustain a change once it has been implemented or to ‘refreeze’ in the changed situation. The post change situation should be closely reviewed by HR and the Management - through feedback from employees and observation to gauge and to assess the effectiveness of the change. Any initial hiccups should be addressed proactively so as to smoothen the process.
Role of HR has changed from simply being a support function to being an enabling function – one that helps and facilitates translating the business objectives into correct action and enables the organizational goals to be met.