Change management, according to the Society for Human Resource Management is "the systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources to deal with change. It involves defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures and technologies to handle changes in external conditions and the business environment." Major organizational changes can include mergers and acquisitions, redefining a company's brand and market position, downsizing, outsourcing and focusing on new markets.
Human Resources: The Champion of Change
Managing change requires a holistic approach to people, project and task management that maximizes the potential for success, while reducing the chance of negative consequences to the business. Because HR encompasses organizational development through recruiting, training and monitoring employee performance, it plays a pivotal role in any change management program.
HR must be at the forefront of change management from the beginning, because HR professionals typically receive training and resources to successfully institute new processes, strategies and use of products in organizations. HR also has the wherewithal to implement change management strategies throughout the organization with agility.
A variety of specific responsibilities in the change management process fall to HR. Some of these are:
- Monitoring industry and market conditions and initiating change when necessary
- Assessing companywide, departmental and individual employee readiness
- Serving as a point of contact for staff questions and concerns
- Helping executives, managers and employees understand how to implement a successful model for organizational change
- Facilitating communication between management and employees, and between the company and its stakeholders (media, partners, customers) and shareholders
- Coordinating meetings about change-related initiatives and preparing information and research to share with company leaders
- Identifying and mitigating potential risks
- Building employee skills, proficiency, willingness and enthusiasm through change-related training
- Constructing a workforce that can drive innovation and successful change
- Calculating the post-implementation impact and return on investment
Roles of Management
Middle managers partner with human resources in implementing organizational change. These supervisors have a vital role to play in helping their employees understand what is at stake, though many do not have organizational change training and need guidance from HR. In a study with 575 change leaders, 84% of participants called manager and supervisor involvement in change initiatives "extremely important" or "very important" to their project's success.
Managers have direct working relationships with employees, and therefore the most visibility into the micro effects of change as it is being instituted. They must be effective communicators, employee advocates, coaches, resistance managers and liaisons between staff and the project management team. Human resources must identify skill gaps that managers may have in these areas and then provide training and resources to prepare them to execute change effectively. Questions managers need to address with their subordinates include what is changing, why, and how the change will affect the work of each employee.
Steps in the Change Management Process
John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, developed a widely adopted approach for managing organizational change. HR works with leadership — from the C-suite to middle management — in executing the following eight stages of Kotter's approach:
- "Create a sense of urgency." The status quo is no longer acceptable, due to dramatic demographic shifts, social trends, new technologies, or any major crisis or opportunity. All employees understand that change is essential to the company's future and the time for change is now.
- "Build a guiding coalition." To lead the change, a team must be established with the authority and expertise necessary, and with representation from each business function including HR.
- "Form a strategic vision and initiatives." An effective vision must meet the following criteria: imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible and communicable.
- "Enlist a volunteer army." This group of people is able to model expected behaviors at all levels of the organization.
- "Enable action by removing barriers." Employee resistance is a major challenge because of real obstacles to change, which include formal structures that make it difficult, a lack of needed skills, unfit information systems and managers who contradict the vision for change.
- "Generate short-term wins." Identify milestones on the path to success that are easy to achieve and can build momentum toward broader long-term goals. As in sports, teams that score early enhance their odds of winning.
- "Sustain acceleration." The process must be continually reinvigorated with new project themes and change agents, while HR and management overcome the inevitable resistance to change.
- "Institute change." The final step links organizational change to the norms of group behavior and the shared values of all of the employees. This is now a new organization.
Managing Organizational Change is part of the curriculum in the University of Northern Colorado online MBA with an Emphasis in Human Resource Management. The course covers the major approaches used for managing both planned and unplanned organizational change. Students review diagnostic techniques for identifying organizational problems and examine how strategic change can achieve increased quality, productivity and employee engagement.
HR has a vital role in effective change management, from initiation of change to final institution. As the catalysts that necessitate organizational change grow in complexity and in number, companies require more HR leaders with the training to provide effective change leadership.
Learn more about UNC's online MBA program with an Emphasis in HR Management.
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