Change is a part of the business at every level, from digital transformations and shifting hierarchies to new HR implementations. Indeed, it’s hard to find a business that hasn’t undergone some major transformational initiative in the past three years.
Even so, the success rate for these programs is surprisingly low. According to research conducted by Gartner, nearly 50% of all organisational change programs end in a clear failure, with slightly over one-third able to claim a clear success. Although it is a normal and necessary part of most organisations, companies still largely struggle with change management.
Change management is an established part of the business world, and it provides organisations with clear guidelines for how to adapt to and embrace new paradigms, workers, models, and more. Especially in the field of HR, I’ve consistently heard horror stories emerging about organisational change efforts gone awry, or new employee recruiting or training drives that end in chaos.
The company line is often about how change starts at the top, but CEOs are rarely the ones driving a change effort—instead, leading change is left to managers or even HR, though they are rarely given access to the real tools they need to succeed.
Whether they are ignored or not assertive enough, many times HR departments are left on the outside looking in on digital adoption and change management efforts and lamenting the path to failure they feel unable to stop.
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Organisations cripple change efforts by excluding HR
In a CoreHR survey published at the end of 2017, 39% of respondents noted that change management is one of the three biggest challenges they faced. For most companies, change management is seen as a purely practical process—evolving from the status quo to a fresh model.
However, companies are built by people, who are notoriously averse to change and can easily derail a transformation initiative before it can really get off the ground.
More importantly, change goes beyond simply upgrading software—a field where, admittedly, there are better people to lead. Oftentimes change involves something external, such as changing regulations, updated safety requirements, or modernised business practices. It may also involve something internal, like corporate restructuring or hiring new staff, which requires a human touch to facilitate and manage the disparate needs and factors that could threaten a smooth transition.
Nevertheless, HR teams are often put between a rock and a hard place by management in a few ways. In many cases, a CEO or manager will not provide reliable information or updates to HR when they demand a new change project be kicked off. This leaves teams to fumble with digital transformations or change processes without a clear goal, guideline, or even benchmark.
Furthermore, CEOs often start the change effort by including HR teams, but then wash their hands of the process. In these situations, HR is left to try to meet an absent CEO’s objectives without help, creating a situation where HR is blocked from making actual changes while still being responsible for massive corporate undertakings.
Even worse, in many cases, HR is not viewed by stakeholders as a powerful ally or even a mediator, but instead as another layer of corporate bureaucracy despite which change must happen. Moreover, the problem is frequently a lack of communication between teams and stakeholders—something HR is expressly designed to facilitate.
Finally, because many stakeholders see change initiatives as smaller, isolated projects, the focus is simply on providing practical information—education, information, and training—rather than showing the real value of the change and offering a more inspirational angle for employees to embrace.
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HR should be at the head of change projects
CEOs are rarely leading the day-to-day process of managing change, even if they are the ones to initiate it. When it is left to department heads, they are more likely to concern themselves over their team than the broader implications of a change initiative. For change management to work, however, organisations need to act in unison and show the value of a company-wide shift, instead of forcing departments to embrace a change they’re unhappy with.
This is where HR comes in considering changes are often not necessarily straightforward. In any type of organisational shift, HR’s biggest role is as a watchdog, ensuring that communication channels are open and accessible, and change is being handled in a uniform and positive manner. Additionally, HR departments are often left to manage the emotional angle, not the practical side of a transformation initiative.
Changes can be traumatic and generate significant stress amongst teams that are constantly under pressure to perform and working within their comfortable, established processes. HR can act as a safety net and help ease the tension and stress changes can trigger. By doing so, these departments play a vital role in ensuring transitions occur smoothly and exhibit a higher probability of success.
Finally, HR departments are responsible for making sure that new changes drive positive value, improve efficiency, and align with a company’s values and existing culture. This means working to ascertain that change processes are handled appropriately, for good reason, and with the well-being of the company and its stakeholders in mind.
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Optimising corporate transformations
Change is a constant in the business world and companies that try to avoid it end up left behind and forgotten. Even so, those companies that do embrace change and establish processes must make sure the right people and teams are in place to assure a successful transition.
By putting trust in the hands of HR and incorporating them in the process from the outset, organisations can raise the odds of triumph, and ensure that all stakeholders are rowing in the same direction.