It’s interesting how various studies of change management refer to the crucial role of the leadership of an organization in managing that change. It is likely, therefore, that if an organization believes in the role of the Human Resources function, it is likely to consider its support and thought-partnering in this area absolutely crucial. If the leadership does not consider its Human Resources team to be a partner in this journey towards change, though, this could look very different. Human Resources would then be subject to a change that they are not aware of, reducing them to being a few steps behind in their strategy. Accurate hiring would be delayed as HR struggles to understand and internalize the change and talent development would have been pursuing a slightly backward approach. Eventually, HR seems to be far too slow at keeping pace with change and different individuals closer to the leadership would take over different parts of the role. But is this the most effective way to go about this change?
Read on to see how HR could play a crucial role in every stage of change management if two things are kept in mind – HR keeps up with the change in the organization and the leadership believes HR plays an important role in bringing about and maintaining change.
At this stage, it is likely that majority of the people in the organization are satisfied with the way things are going. Traditionally, the role of HR has also been seen as one that maintains status quo – that stabilizes. The role of training and development has been to maintain and increase the body of knowledge amassed by the organization so far. The role of policies and compliances has been to maintain parity across the board and to ensure that everyone is treated the same way. Shouldn’t then the role of HR also be in maintaining the pre-contemplative stage – where one is convinced that there is no problem?
No. The role of HR in the wake of change would be to bring its people to think through the status quo. For the people to understand the need for change, they must see the rationale for it. One way that you could get them to do it is by helping them see that. Show the organization that you are thinking through the different things that are done and communicate the decisions that your change management committee is making. Be honest about the complexities faced and the questions that the committee is attempting to answer. In this stage of ‘denial’ that change needs to take place, communicate effectively that it might.
Also ensure that your change management committee actually consists of people with credibility. People are more likely to understand and be convinced of this need for change if those who are committed and have proven their worth are the ones leading it. It is a part of the safety net you want to create for your people.
At this stage, as HR you might want to make your people feel far more involved in the change that is about to take place. Involve them in decision making by asking them to consider the pros and cons of the change that will be taking place. This will also affect how involved, valued and loved your people feel when they know that their decision matters to you.
Prepare your line managers to answer a lot of questions in the direction of the change that is required. They are the first point of contact for any thoughts that people have, and they should be equipped to answer them or refer them to people who are.
It now becomes more and more essential for HR to know and assess how informed your people are about the change that is coming up. While your change management committee and leadership will focus on the change that is being brought about, HR’s focus on its people should never reduce. That’s where Lawrence Bossidy’s (former COO of GE) statement couldn’t have fit better - “I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
The leadership, HR and the people in the organization are now ready to take on the change if HR has focused on laying the ground effectively.
It is here that you want people to be aware of how different their roles might look in the event of this change. A significant fear for our people is that ambiguity that they might have to work with, and working with them just to reduce the ambiguity might be most helpful.
Let people know they are heard. Form committees that help people continue to know that their words are power, that they are helping take this change forward. But don’t forget to put champions of the required change into each of these committees – feedback, while necessary, must only be taken in when assessed and required. Your champions are the ones who will be best suited to let unnecessary feedback by, while at the same time letting people know the rationale of that.
Let your leadership inspire in the wake of change. Support the clarity you want your people to have with the inspiration that change can be just as exciting with the possibilities that it brings!
At this stage, your people are putting to test all the belief and faith that they had in the required change. It is crucial for them to know that Human Resources, their line managers and the leadership are backing them as they take their chances, because his change is going to lead to challenges and questions. Pre-empt the challenges before they go into full-fledged action if you can.
This stage takes the greatest commitment of time, energy and faith – constantly remind your people that this would be impossible without them. Many will return to the contemplation stage and HR and the leadership should be prepared to quickly support them back to this stage. Through this stage, HR would also need to establish themselves as the employee champion so that the first thought that people have is to turn to them when facing challenges in this stage.
Here is where HR plays the most crucial role. Your talent infrastructure (including policies, compliances, ways of functioning, maybe even your code of conduct or core values) would have gone through change. It is at this stage that relapse must be prevented and integration is the key. Continue to monitor whether the change has actually taken place and that your people are satisfies – that they are not tempted to go back to the contemplation or pre-contemplation stages.
Change champions, the leadership and HR should continue to display their commitment to the changed environment. Watch out for any relapses and find mentors to help your people through the change.
Our role in different stages of the organization is different. The crux is to be self-aware and identify where we are most helpful. The power of HR depends on the way we believe in and brand ourselves. With change being the foremost concern of many organizations in the past and now, HR has great powers to effectively bring it about.