The only constant is change. It’s an old adage that rings true, especially in today’s fast-paced world. Regardless of your industry, change is an essential part of organizational longevity now more than ever. Forces that make change a necessity can come from both internal and external sources, which can further complicate things. Your organizational change might be something as “simple” as implementing a new technology or as complex as redefining an entire product line. Whatever the change is, how it is managed can make or break an organization. At its core, change management is all about people and their capacity for change. What better reason than that very fact, for HR to be at the forefront of organizational change. But, what exactly is HR’s role in organizational change?
A change agent, by simple definition, is a person who helps bring about organizational transformation through focusing on things like organizational effectiveness, improvement, and development. This person can be responsible for managing changes in processes, structures, and technologies as well as in interpersonal and group relationships within the organization. As a change agent you might have to act as a trainer, teacher, coach, researcher, or advocate, among other roles. You might be tasked with planning the change and/or implementing the change. Your specific role can vary depending on the organization and the exact change that needs to take place, but the important thing to recognize is that HR plays a pivotal role in organizational change.
Creating a culture of change can be quite a challenge. In general, when it comes to being a change agent, HR is looking to alter human capability or organizational systems to achieve a higher degree of output. But what do you need to be an effective change agent in your organization?
For starters, a broad knowledge of the organization is going to be key. You have to have, at minimum, a high-level understanding of how things work within the organization if you are going to make any successful changes. Secondly, you should be relationship oriented. Change can’t happen if you can’t move the people and that will require some general people-skills, good communication skills, and a certain amount of sensitivity (because change is hard for folks and we need to recognize that). You also need to be authentic in your message, otherwise people will never buy-in to the change. (And no buy-in from the employees means that it is much less likely that your change will move forward successfully. Lastly, your vision of the change needs to be clear. If you can’t clearly articulate the change, again there will be no buy-in from the employees.
So, with all that said, here are a few quick tips for how to successfully be the change agent in your organization:
- Be the change then do the change…
In order to develop change in the organization and foster leadership development, HR needs to be equally as involved in organizational change as any other department in the organization. If HR can embody the change and clearly articulate it to the employees, prior to actually implementing the change, the implementation phase will go so much smoother.
- Know your organization and its people…
As change agents, HR needs to be perceptive, intuitive, and reflective. When bringing about any change in the organization, you should expect to encounter resistance. Remember, people generally dislike change. But, by understanding the employees, HR can anticipate the level of resistance for any kind of change and then begin to formulate a framework to bring about change with a minimum amount of resistance. Knowing your employees also makes it easier to identify those individuals who are more open to change. Enabling and energizing a handful of employees who are receptive to change, prior to implementing change, can go a long way toward making the change implementation successful. Identify and rally your troops, constantly gauge the temperature of the overall culture, and be ready to make adjustments to the implementation plan as needed. If you can do those 3 things you will be well on your way to a successful organizational change.
- Understand that both the organization and the people will need to change…
Organizational change covers a vast array of business activities, all generally aimed at improving performance and productivity. By the nature of our very role, HR has the strategic ability to be the change agent for successful organizations by incorporating change within its own functioning, by developing change leaders in the organization, by anticipating resistance, by planning accordingly to develop sustainable change culture, and by bringing in changes to the organizational structure. To change the organization is to change the people within it. To change the people in an organization is to change the organization. Understanding this reality is key to successful change within any organization.
Now, consider these questions to get yourself started on the road to being a change agent in your organization…
- What is one way in which you can become a change agent in your organization?
- What should your first step be toward becoming that change agent?
- Who do you want/need to get on board with you?
- How can you monitor the cultural temperature of the employees/organization?
Be the change agent your organization needs. Know your company, know your people, and lead them forward.