Change Management and HR

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The business news is filled with stories about the worldwide recession’s far-reaching impact. Countless organizations instituted significant operational changes to cut costs and increase productivity; some may have learned the hard way that when implementing change, the human side of a project is just as important as the potential cost savings or productivity boost.

Project managers have to be effective at change management, because changes will occur during the duration of a project. When it comes to personnel change, project managers are well-equipped for the processes required to assure that the transition goes smoothly. However, project managers that work with human resources during change management can maximize the effectiveness of the process by utilizing both positions’ skill sets.

Involving HR in change management initiatives can make a big difference in achieving successful outcomes. How? By tapping into HR professionals’ expertise in communicating goals, gathering feedback, assessing the impact of change on employees and supporting them through the process.

Three Types of Change Efforts

Change efforts often result in tension, frustration and resistance, followed by a return to the status quo. Employees’ dissatisfaction levels often depend upon the type and degree of the shift. People often feel more comfortable with what they know, so major changes can be scary to them. Even small shifts can make a big difference in day to day business, which may upset employees, especially at the onset.

One of the most important parts of change management is helping to manage resistance. Understanding the differences between shift types can help minimize negativity among employees during the shift.

  • Cultural Shift: Examples include a shift from hierarchical management to team-based management or from a top-down management style to a collaborative approach.
  • Structural Shift: Refers to fundamental ways an organization does business. Examples include a change from centralized to decentralized operations, permanent downsizing, and relocating staff or operations.
  • Strategic Shift: Often the result of mergers and acquisitions, changes in product mix or customer focus, or cost-cutting measures.

In any of these cases, a shift from one extreme to the other can almost guarantee resistance.

How Human Resources Can Help With Change Management

Three ways HR can assist with change are through communication, overcoming resistance, and developing training programs.

  1. Keep Communication Clear, Consistent and Continuous
    Communication is one of the key factors in any form of project management. Project managers can benefit from learning communication from an HR professional. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), communication breakdowns are one of the top two obstacles organizations face during periods of major change. Initiatives can fail when employees feel disengaged and uninformed about what they are facing, the benefits of the change and how it will proceed.HR personnel are experts at communicating. Involving them early on allows them to communicate the organization’s vision, engage management and employees from the start, and provide updates at every stage of the process.
  2. Overcome Employee Resistance
    Resistance is often a reaction to fear. During change initiatives, it’s typically fear of the unknown that drives employees to resist the change. Worry about losing one’s job during a merger is an understandable reaction. HR can mitigate issues like this by supporting employees through the process – even when job loss is inevitable. Here’s how:

    • Planning and coordinating internal communications
    • Serving as point of contact for questions and concerns
    • Explaining impacts of change on staffing
    • Clearly communicating the company’s vision
  3. Develop Training ProgramsWhen communication alone does not suffice, training employees about major organizational change can help the transition go more smoothly. Allowing enough time for training – often a challenge during transition – is key to its success. Whether employees need to trained on new procedures, additional responsibilities or the dos and don’ts of a revamped company culture, training is an additional way to overcome fear of the unknown.

Management and HR as Strategic Partners in Change Management

Project managers are experts at organizing all of the tiny details that help create the big picture. Project managers have to work well with others, but HR professionals are experts in handling the needs of people. HR’s primary responsibility is an organization’s human capital; giving HR a central role in the early stages of a change initiative can lead to successful implementation. When viewed as a strategic partner during the change process, HR is better able to support the organization’s business goals and help move staff and management toward reaching and sustaining them.

In fact, a survey of HR professionals conducted by SHRM revealed that nearly three-quarters of respondents reported that employee understanding improved when HR was involved in an organization’s change management process. 55% said that communication between management and staff improved, while 32% indicated that potential risks were identified and mitigated.

It’s clear that HR can greatly contribute to any project manager’s change management process – especially when involved right from the start.


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