5 ways to help lead successful change management

HR can play an important role in helping navigate organisational turbulence and uncertainty through change management

HR can play an important role in helping managers navigate organisational turbulence and uncertainty, writes Jennie Walker

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, was the first to pen this popular phrase around 500BC. Its endurance today is certainly a testament to its validity. Yet, change remains difficult for many to embrace. Especially in the context of one’s livelihood, fear of change can induce anxiety – reorganisations, reductions and leadership changes are among the most heart-pounding. But even seemingly non-threatening changes like new processes or new trainings can be of concern to employees, until they understand the changes and feel confident in their responsibilities with them. Regardless of the source of uncertainty or change, managers are often on the frontlines of helping to facilitate communication about changes in the workplace and may also be responsible for much of the hands-on efforts to implement them. Since change tends to amplify human emotions, managers may be quite nervous about their change management responsibilities with their employees. HR partners can be helpful to them by providing insights to assist them to navigate organisational turbulence and uncertainty.

To walk through a few of these change management steps, let’s consider a common example of organisational change: changing the way performance management is measured and input into the HRMS at your company. Many managers view performance management as a burden, since it can be both time consuming and create the need for difficult conversations with some of their staff. Knowing the negative sentiment on this topic makes change management especially important. A solid communication and engagement strategy will foster greater commitment to the process, which ultimately benefits employees.

1. Involve stakeholders early in the change process. Before firm decisions are made about changes, it is ideal to involve stakeholders and a representative group of employees who will be affected by the changes. As an example, one multinational company I worked with surveyed all managers for their feedback on the existing performance management system. They then involved a representative group of managers by functional area in the selection process for the new system. This was critically important to incorporate real-world users’ needs in the ultimate configuration of the system, and to create a peer group of champions for the ultimate rollout.

2. Facilitate open dialogue about concerns and feelings regarding the change. When the selection for the new system was made, employees were invited to join small group conversations about the new system with a representative from their functional area. Many people attended, because it was important to them to clear up their concerns and influence the way training rolled out to their staff.

When this step is skipped over, an organisation is simply setting itself up for rumour mills, dissention or apathy. From the organisational standpoint, change will simply happen and that’s that. But as you have likely seen in your own experience, emotions and concerns that are not openly addressed, surface in a multitude of unproductive ways.

3. Implement a strategic communication plan. A strategic communication plan should include a timeline and topics for communication. As an example, the previous company set up a specific web page where these communications were published, and then directed all employees to this page as emails were periodically sent out. Emails were sent quarterly and then monthly in the early stages of the change process. They were ramped up to weekly when training and implementation were in progress. It’s quite alright if your company doesn’t have the resources for a web page for major changes, but do consider the timing, topics and appropriate distribution of your communications.

4. Train and support employees as new patterns are established. If the change is relatively minor, such as a change in a specific form used to report time off, training could be in the form of optional sessions, a recorded tutorial or a job aid. When the change is major and affects many people, the support strategy will need to be more involved. The previous company hosted a variety of required sessions that were offered at different times, both in-person and virtually, to accommodate the various needs of a large employee base.

5. Reinforce the benefits of the change and short-term wins, but always be candid. Change isn’t over when the change is implemented. Naturally, it takes time to get used to a change. It is helpful to periodically reinforce the benefits by sharing short-term wins. In the above company, benefits for the performance management system included a streamlined process used across the organisation and time savings through shortened forms and automated calculations. But discoveries over time also included some challenges that needed to be communicated and worked through. Candour about challenges along with suggestions and solutions go a long way in maintaining trust in an organisation. That is what makes change stick.

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