The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said: “Change alone is unchanging.”
More than 2,500 years later, this still rings true—new technologies and rapid social, economic, and political shifts are reshaping our world faster than ever before.
Change is a fact of life in business today. According to Gartner, the typical organization has undertaken five major firmwide changes in the past three years.
The most successful organizations will be those that can effectively navigate major changes, whether it's a merger or acquisition, leadership transition, or even a global pandemic.
As an HR professional, it’s your responsibility to act as a strategic partner during organizational change in order to minimize change resistance from employees and increase the chances of a successful transformation. If you’re wondering what all that entails, don’t worry—we’ll cover how you can support your workforce through times of change below.
Change management refers to the methods or strategies an organization uses to implement change. The goal of these strategies is to prepare and support individual employees throughout an organizational transformation.
Examples of times when a formal change management strategy may be needed include adopting new technology, mergers or acquisitions, and changes in leadership or organizational culture.
There are two common approaches to change management: top down and open source.
Top-down change management is a more traditional strategy where executive leaders define the vision and plan of action for the change, then focus on communicating the rationale and benefits to the rest of the workforce. With this approach, lower-level employees are excluded from the decision-making process even though they are directly affected by the choices that are made.
On the other hand, open-source change management asks employees of all levels to help co-create a change strategy. Rather than telling employees what they are expected to do and why, open-source change management is centered around open, two-way communication that helps everyone navigate transitions together.
Overall, open-source change management is preferable to a top-down approach. The proof is in the numbers; organizations that adopt an open-source approach to change management increase their probability of change success by 24% (full content available to Gartner clients). This is because employees' reactions and feedback (whether negative, positive, or neutral) are heard before the change is implemented, which helps minimize change resistance.
An open-source approach also reduces the risk of employees experiencing change fatigue. For instance, Gartner found that opting for an open-source change management strategy over a top-down approach increases employees’ intent to stay with their employers by up to 46%.
Half of all change initiatives fail, and only 34% are a clear success. However, applying open-source principles to your next change initiative will improve your organization’s chance at success.
In this five-step strategy for organizational change management, we’ll look at each part of the process with an open-source approach in mind. We’ll also include tips for how HR professionals can support both employees and leadership along the way.
1. Define the goal of the change initiative
First things first, the scope of the change needs to be defined. This step will likely be managed by executive level leadership and department heads, but depending on the subject of the change, employees from affected business departments can be involved as well.
For example, if the initiative is a large-scale technological change (such as a digital transformation), it makes sense to involve the director or head of IT and the chief technology officer in defining the goal of the change.
How HR can help: Build a business case for senior leaders to adopt an open-source approach and establish the HR function at your organization as a strategic partner for both leadership and employees throughout the change management process.
2. Co-create a change management plan
While 74% of leaders say that they involve employees in creating a change strategy, only 42% of employees feel like they were truly included. This is because, typically, leaders decide on a change strategy and collect feedback from employees only after the plans have been set in motion.
Unfortunately, this is not really co-creation because co-creation involves soliciting feedback and ideas from a diverse group of decision-makers during the planning process. While this approach might lead to slower decision-making, more time spent making better decisions upfront translates into greater time savings down the road. Even if associates’ ideas aren’t a part of the final decisions that are made, they will know their feedback was taken into consideration and have the chance to make peace with the outcome now rather than six months down the road.
How HR can help: Have an initial conversation with executives and department leaders to determine which business functions will be the most impacted by the planned change. Then, figure out who within those departments should be included in the planning process and loop them in as early as possible.
3. Empower your teams to implement the change
With a top-down approach, leaders decide how a change will be implemented, then communicate instructions to the rest of the workforce. However, while business leaders may understand what needs to change and why, the details of how to implement the change are best left to on-the-ground employees, who have a better understanding of the impact the change will have on their day-to-day work.
With this version of implementation planning, employees are empowered to define their own success metrics and to-dos, while leadership focuses on supporting the workforce through removing obstacles that arise.
How HR can help: With the help of those involved in the planning process, develop a communication plan that details what the planned change is, the rationale behind it, who in the company is affected, and what next steps employees need to take. Set up a line of communication where employees can flag barriers to implementation and share best practices with the rest of the organization.
4. Provide necessary training
Depending on the type of change, your employees may need formal training so they can build proficiency and familiarity with the new processes. For example, if your business is adopting new software, a tutorial on the functionality and planned application of those tools is in order. Or if your business is going through an acquisition, workers should be introduced to the product and service offerings and culture of their new parent company. While providing training takes time, good training can reduce confusion and inefficiency down the line.
In some cases, formal training isn’t necessary. If your business is experiencing organizational structure changes, but the roles and responsibilities of individual employees aren’t affected, an office hour where workers can ask questions about the restructuring will suffice.
How HR can help: In many cases, HR is the best positioned to organize these training sessions. In fact, HR should be coordinating ongoing training as a best practice. Collaborate with coworkers who are well-versed in the new way of doing things to design training materials, then coordinate with people managers within your organization to schedule sessions for different teams.
5. Measure the change effort
Without metrics, there’s no way to know if your change initiative is successful. In order to judge your strategy’s effectiveness, have managers set key performance indicators (KPIs) during the planning and implementation phases of the initiative. For example, metrics such as the number of help desk calls or reach and engagement of internal communications can be helpful in determining how effective the communication of your change strategy to employees was.
Business intelligence software can help your organization leaders keep an eye on KPIs through dashboards with real-time analytics. With these tools, you can customize the metrics you want to track, discuss the results with your team, and build custom reports in a few clicks.
How HR can help: Encourage team managers to define KPIs during the planning process, then use these metrics to calculate post-implementation success. Share your findings with leadership and discuss where things went well and where they could improve.
Open-source change management can alter your company culture for the better. Not only will it improve your chance of success during a transformational change, it will also help employees feel more valued and engaged, and in turn, less likely to leave your organization—which is a huge win for HR.
If you want more wins, don’t just be a part of an HR team that executes; be a leader in an HR team that innovates. Start by checking out these resources that cover recent trends in the HR world:
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