Principles of change management for the people profession
How can HR professionals put transformation into practice or respond quickly to external forces, while keeping their people happy, engaged, motivated, and productive? The answer is a good change management strategy… and for everything else, there’s SenseHR.
Look up any business or HR blog that’s been published in the last couple of years, and you’re more than likely to see the word ‘change’ in the first couple of paragraphs. You might also find a reference to Charles Darwin and a quote that goes something like—because there are a few variations— “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.
It’s a popular quote, especially for anyone talking about change. It’s been referenced by the likes of Forbes, LinkedIn, The Seattle Times, innumerable books, and it’s even etched into the stone floor of the California Academy of Sciences. And it’s no wonder—it rings with truth, it’s almost universally relevant, and at only 144 characters, it’s tweetable too. The only snag is that Darwin didn’t say it—he probably didn’t even think it. That honour goes to a Louisiana State University Marketing Professor by the name of Leon Megginson. Oopsy!
But then, a misattributed quote about adaptability being—literally and ironically—written in stone, only proves the point that adaptability IS vital (no matter who said it first).
And for the people profession, being able to adapt to change is facilitated by effective change management.
In HR circles, there’s been plenty of change to go around lately. Not only are people managers dealing with the possibilities of internal change likes policy changes, staff turnover, and mergers and acquisitions and external changes like regulations, technological developments, consumer behaviours, market fluctuations and a pandemic, but they are also managing the most changeable resource there is—people.
In just 2 short years, hybrid and remote working have gone from fairly unusual to standard practice—so much so that people now expect working flexibility. A human-centric model for workplaces is taking on the long-established shareholder model, and a greater focus on work-life balance, staff wellbeing, culture connectedness, and human leadership is taking centre stage. There is more pressure on organisations to provide reskilling, upskilling, and lifelong learning opportunities—not only to attract talent but to reduce growing skill gaps… the definite lines that used to exist between employment types are fading, rigid hierarchies are being swept away, intelligent technology is booming, and the list goes on.
But while it’s true that change has been accelerated over the last few years, it also true that change is becoming the normal state of business. Which means that it’s no longer good enough to have an HR system that has all the answers now. HR professionals and organisations need an agile HR system that will still have all the answers in 5- or 10-years’ time as well. And that means a system that can adapt and respond to the unforeseen changes, while predicting outcomes and supporting decision making with data backed evidence—a next-gen HR system.
In a pre-pandemic world—a world where hand washing was reserved for bathroom breaks, masks were for Halloween (and Michael Jackson), travelling on planes could sometimes be fun, and there was some semblance of market stability—organisations could get away with 5-year strategic plans. HR had the luxury of testing and rolling out new initiatives over time. But in today’s dynamic and fast-paced environment, retaining the competitive advantage means setting new goals, implementing new processes, and embracing always-on adaptation more effectively and quicker than competitors.
But given that 73% of change-affected employees say that they experienced moderate to high-levels of stress in response to workplace changes, how can HR professionals balance a human-centric workforce, with the apparently conflicting business requirement for change? How can they put transformation into practice or respond to external forces, while keeping their people happy, engaged, motivated, and productive?
While there are no simple answers, there are well-established principles for managing change effectively.
Policy and procedure
People professionals, HR processes, and HR systems can be powerful change facilitators. Effective transformation and organisational development can be supported pre-emptively with established policies and procedures for change. But it’s also important that people can find them.
A 2018 IDC report found that people spend over 30% of their time finding relevant data and documentation. During times of change, every employee is looking for information, so it’s more important than ever to be clear about what responsibilities people have and organisational processes. The best HR systems can personalise the experience, so that specific and relevant information can be passed to individuals about the changes that affect them, rather than overwhelming people with too much information. Information can be filtered in a way that’s uniquely relevant to the user, showing each individual’s role and contribution, while still making it easy to find more universal information. An easy-to-use system can be a powerful motivator and inspire positive peer pressure.
And policies and procedures can help people managers to maintain professional standards in the face of pushback from stakeholders. 62% of people don’t like to leave their comfort zone and experience varying levels of stress or fear when confronted with change. And it’s made worse when they can’t see any personal benefit. Or in some cases, resistance to change can be politically motivated. Either way, it’s important for HR professionals to recognise that resistance to change is natural. The unknown is threatening and it’s rational to kick-out against change that might not benefit you. Likewise, organisational politics might be frustrating, but it’s also unavoidable. It’s better to acknowledge, accept, and move on with the backing of established procedures and policies.
In an open culture, stakeholders including workers and managers, can often see the need for change before it arises. Patterns and changing business requirements are clearer to everyone—not just leadership. Which means that change doesn’t feel like an external threat when it’s introduced. Instead, it’s something that everyone recognises and faces together.
Without effective two-way communication—which requires listening as well as informing—rumours and assumptions fill the knowledge-gap and can sabotage efforts early on. People always seek to explain and make sense of their situation and without the facts, those explanations will be incomplete at best, and at worst damaging to organisational goals. Once people have formed their own impressions, it’s difficult to change their mind, even in the face of hard evidence. Confirmation bias means that people will only embrace information that supports those impressions and will reject information that contradicts them. So, getting ahead of the grapevine with effective communication tools is vital. And this kind of open communication engenders a climate of trust and security, which makes it much easier for HR professionals to get people on board.
Of course, the very best HR systems allow people managers to offer the right information at the exact moment that the recipient can act on it. Just-in-time feedback and staggered change mean that people can see the effects of smaller changes as they go.
Belonging to a group is a strong human need. If HR professionals neglect to build a strong company culture, then people will create their own micro-cultures. Then, when change comes, instead of acting in the interests of the organisation and the larger group, people will act solely in the interests of their smaller groups.
People managers can support company culture during times of change by creating opportunities for matrix teams to work together on small projects, which can enhance group cohesion. They can organise social events, general meetings, and companywide forums. And HR software self-service portals can help to create direct connections among people across the organisation. It allows them to sidestep cumbersome hierarchal protocols and shorten the time it takes to get things done. It also fosters more direct and instant connections that allow employees to share relevant information, find answers quickly, and get help and advice from people they trust. And when the people involved in change efforts are physically distant from one another, providing effective, easy to use, and always available outlets for this kind of connectivity and commentary is vital. Shared dashboards, visualisations of activity across the team (and even the company) gamification to bolster personal development and recognition, and messaging applications where people can easily speak to one another, all support connection and commitment to change.
And HR software can help to keep organisational values and human actions aligned, for true cultural harmony. Otherwise, HR professionals, leaders, and managers risk creating a credibility gap, which can damage employee confidence and trust.
HR software is vital to empower people during organisational transformation. HR professionals can communicate progress so that people can see what’s going on in real-time. Likewise, people can share their personal progress and contributions or those of their team. This type of real-time access makes the change feel more urgent and active, which helps with momentum and commitment to the change. Bringing in teams early to collaborate on change, or offering choices of job roles or responsibilities, can also help people own the change.
Boost feelings of competence
Competence, autonomy, and connection are the 3 pillars of self-determination theory.
We’ve already looked at empowerment (autonomy) and connection (communication and company culture), but feelings of competence can be compromised in times of change. Will my job be safe? Will my skills be needed? Will I be able to learn the new systems or technologies? Will my employer support learning and development time? These are all questions people might ask themselves when changes are introduced.
People managers can help by:
- demonstrating that current skill sets will continue to be vital
- openly recognising and celebrating accomplishments
- making time and room for training and self-improvement, communicating this clearly, and putting the systems in place to support this
- encouraging people to overcome perceived limitations and step beyond their comfort zone.
Systems for continuous learning and development should be in place long before change is introduced, so that workers can prepare themselves too. Because when you have the proper tools and knowledge to navigate change, it’s a lot less scary. And understanding and mastering technologies before they’re introduced, and not after, makes them feel less intimidating.
Change is an emotional process. It’s important that HR recognises that and makes space so that people can acknowledge feelings of fear about impacts to their competence, personal connections, and career trajectories. Emotions, and particularly fear, are strong motivators and masses of data and policies won’t count for much if human emotions are dismissed. Next-gen software will provide forums for discussion, access to training, easy access to promoted policies and procedures, and planning tools for workshops. It will also help with modelling feelings in a responsible and professional way, such as ongoing employee surveys and feedback—this is how I feel about it, now how do you feel about it?
And overall, remember that resistance is a symptom of high engagement and investment in the organisation. It should be welcomed and discussed openly. The result of dismissing or railroading employee concerns is apathy, and that’s much worse for any organisation.
Of course, introducing an HR system is a change too. And just like any other change, it’s subject to the discouraging statistic that 70 percent of change programs don’t achieve their goals. But in the case of new technology, organisations often make the same, easily avoidable mistake — they put all the work into implementation but as soon as the system goes live, they take a hands-off approach.
But by following established change management procedures, people managers can support ongoing adoption of the new technology. Bringing in internal owners of the product throughout the organisation, who will continue to champion the technology and support uptake, is important. As is incorporating all the principles discussed so far.
And with SenseHR our customer service teams are experts in supporting change—after all we’re just as invested in the SenseHR system as our customers. We provide training, easy to follow and implement documentation, and 24-hour customer support, as well as UK phone support, so we can be with you every step of the way.
Be ready for the unexpected
Sometimes adapting quickly to unforeseen or urgent change is unavoidable. But your people will react much better to this kind of change if they know, from prior experience, that the organisation is on their side and has worked to make change as comfortable as possible in the past.
And remember, change initiatives can be overmanaged as well as undermanaged. But with a software that changes and grows with the business; that values and promotes transparent and clear communication, with accessible and effective feedback channels; that empowers people, supports competence, reinforces company culture, and promotes procedure and policy; that prepares organisations for both evolutionary adaptation as well as radical, unexpected transformations—that is with SenseHR’s next-gen software—change almost manages itself.
Kind of like natural evolution.
But the most important lesson of all? Adaptability is crucial and your HR software should reflect that. Just like HR professionals, HR software needs to be a change facilitator. And nothing should ever be set in stone.