How HR plays a vital role in change management

By Danone Simpson | Posted: August 17, 2017

Human resources is at the heart of the company, touching all employees and helping spread the message of the C-suite. However, many times these employees are the last to know about upcoming business changes, instead of the first.

Smart Business spoke with Danone Simpson, CEO of Montage Insurance Solutions about business change and HR’s role in shepherding it along successfully.

Why is HR the last to know about business change?

By working with many human resource leaders, I have often found their common statement is that they are ‘the last to know.’ They are the last to know when change is coming, whether that’s layoffs, mergers, acquisitions, financial difficulties and/or business decisions that can alter a company’s culture.

To begin with the end goal in mind is noble and important along with the understanding that ‘the most well-designed departmental communication program will not tear down silos unless the people who created those silos want them torn down,’ Patrick Lencioni says in his book, ‘The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.’

The well-developed HR professional understands this, because they are the change agent. Along with ensuring compliance measures are met, employee management and communication is critical.

What’s one of the biggest problems with change management?

Often the C-suite of small and midsize companies creates the plan, and then hands it off to HR to implement. Some even give it to supervisors who discuss it with staff members — a handoff that may have started above the C-suite level.

Lencioni, however, states that the success of top-down communication starts with building a cohesive leadership team and creating clarity. ‘Without these,’ he says, ‘no amount of communication is going to be effective.’

Every CEO could agree they have had plans thwarted due to breakdowns in the message — either it was not clear enough or the subculture of important departments did not accept the change because they were not a part of it.

How can the C-suite ensure the message is clear?

Lencioni shares his philosophy of the thematic goal. He recommends ‘every organization that wants to create a sense of alignment and focus must have a single top priority within a given period of time.’

This tight focus should be scheduled for three months to one year. Then, the leadership team has clarity around how to spend its time, energy and resources. ‘The thematic goal must become the responsibility of the leadership team,’ Lencioni says.

Where does HR fit into this focused way of doing business and making changes?

HR is the heartbeat of the company.

At a recent HR organization meeting with roundtable discussions, one person stated, ‘I need advice on how to help my CEO, and other executives, understand I can’t be the last to know about layoffs and other decisions that impact employees.’

Another HR executive/consultant shared how she found the same thing in her startup company, so she asked the leadership team to agree to read one article per week, or month, that she would send them. They agreed, and she sent an article about poor employment decisions similar to ones her leaders handed down to her. It was results based, stating facts of court cases and liability payouts for poor decisions. Another article was on employee engagement or team building exercises to help promote better communications down to the trenches. Her method worked, and now she is on the executive team.

Anita Gorino, owner of Creative Resources, says of HR executives, ‘First of all, don’t be the police. Ask good questions of your executives and then come up with a few key ideas that may lead to a deeper brainstorming session. Be a part of the strategy. Don’t find one million ways why new plans and ideas will not work.’

HR executives are needed to help create and implement employee management strategies, beginning with the ‘why.’ No longer can they be the last to know.

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