HR’s Role in Change Management

November 5, 2019 | Shannon Shoemaker

Work is changing across the board, but few roles are evolving as quickly as HR’s. Films like “Wall-E” demonstrate our cultural fear that technology will replace a human workforce, but work isn’t being eliminated — just changed. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, about 1 million jobs will be lost to technology by 2022, but another 1.75 million will be gained.

HR will play a significant role in re-skilling people to work alongside machines. But HR can’t function in a vacuum. Organizations have to change to keep up with HR’s new strategic role. But many HR practitioners — 51% according to research from Sage — don’t feel like their organizations have the vision or leadership needed to support their evolving role.

Change management is a two-way street. While HR needs organizational support for its evolution, HR can also support change management across the company. Here are some ways your HR team can spur and support change at your organization.

Get On-the-Job Experience

HR is experiencing rapid changes, so it’s a good idea to get some practice in change management. This allows HR departments to facilitate change internally as well as on an organizational level. The biggest mistake HR can make is to stay passive.

“It’s a good idea for HR to conduct a trial run to learn the practical skills that change management should include,” says Deepak Lalwani, principal and management consultant at Deepak Lalwani & Associates. “This helps general HR practitioners to learn the roles, team structures and processes that should frame and drive change management.”

Having your HR team get practice in change management prepares you to support the organization through change. By experiencing the process, you and your team can determine the best ways to help from a people management perspective.

Create Cross-Functional Change

Not every organization has the bandwidth for a designated change management team. HR can step up to help organize cross-functional teams to address changes at the organization. “Project managers have the skills and discipline to facilitate change management,” Lalwani says. HR can facilitate cross-functional teams that include project managers and proactive HR team members who are interested in learning.

Having team members work together and share expertise from across departments can create the best results and build a sense of community in the face of change. Grounding change in how it will affect the community as a whole is an important step in supporting change.

Support Individuals Through Change

When facilitating change, it’s critical that employees are supported as people, not just as employees. HR can support change through a more emotionally nuanced approach. “The most conspicuous missing piece in the people side of change management is attention to human nature during times of change,” says Nicole Gravagna, president of NeuroEQ. “It’s important to respect resistance to change as a real and necessary part of change management. If resistance in some employees is ignored then it tends to decay into resentment.”

To acknowledge this resistance, Gravagna suggests outsourcing change management to a team trained in mental health or utilizing open-door policies and town-hall-style meetings. Most of all, though, approach resistance with empathy. “HR is often very good at creating procedures for people to follow, but resistance doesn’t respond to procedure,” she says. “It responds to genuine empathy.”

Change is essential for development, especially for HR practice. Be proactive in supporting and guiding your organization into the future.

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