Organisations are changing and doing so rapidly. Change is inevitable and it is here to stay. It is part of what is required to survive. It is literally a case of adapt or die! Organisations are responsive to the pace and extent at which change is happening amongst customers, technology, legislation, politics, economics and the like. Indeed organisations are a microcosm of society and are therefore not exempt from any of the changes which take place at a societal level. This is not the main thrust of this article, however. The main thrust is how do and should Human Resources practitioners respond to this situation. What should the role of the HR department or practitioner be in such situations?
The HR department or practitioner should be the source of advice preparing the organization for any change. It should be close enough to its business leaders and managers to understand what change is imminent. It should be the early warning signal to the organization that change is about to occur and also be able to translate the change into a strategy, action plan or steps to be taken by managers and employees which will see the organization thriving amidst the white water of change and coming out better after the change than before it. The HR practitioner must be able to understand why the change is occurring, why the organization would need to make the change, understand how wide the change will reach in regard to processes, systems, stakeholders and the like as well as what the specific elements of the change are. In this regard I have identified the following roles for the HR practitioner in regard to organizational change:
- The Professional Student: This role requires the HR practitioner to always be ready to learn and to receive what managers are telling them about organizational strategy and imminent change. They must ask questions of these leaders so that they can come to a full understanding of what is driving the change, what are the critical elements of the change, who the change will impact and what processes and systems might need to be adapted to cope better with the change;
- The Analyst: This role requires the HR practitioner to be able to ask the appropriate questions and to be able to understand why the change is required, to critically examine the elements of the change process so that the exact change, its impact on people and processes, the stakeholders involved and how best to convey the message of change to the organisation can be well understood. The HR practitioner must lead the organization and its managers in regard to relevant metrics for change and how to measure whether change is taking place and whether the change is having the expected outcome that was anticipated at the commencement of the change process.
- The Spokesperson: The HR practitioner should be that person who will communicate that change is taking place, what the change is, how it will affect the organization, what response the organization and its leaders will take and the key indicators reflecting that the organization had coped adequately with the change. It will also be required to provide updates on how the organization and its people are progressing in regard to the change process with all of its associated
- The Project Manager: This role would require the HR practitioner to be able to translate the organizational change into actionable steps or action items or operational strategies which will convert the change into implementable action items that will see the managers and employees responding to the change in a positive and measurable way. The HR practitioner will need to understand all the specifics of the change and its impact on the organization and its people as well as what steps will need to be taken to respond to the change in order to communicate the change effectively to employees.
- The Coach and Mentor: During times of change, managers will frequently need a place whence they can receive encouragement and oftentimes may need advice on how to deal with employees who may be resisting the change or not coping with it or with issues around how to apply certain strategies relating to the change. This is a role, which is important for any HR practitioner to fulfill. He/she must be in a position to assist managers with this kind of support as the HR practitioner should be best placed to assume this role.
- The Arbiter: The key indicators should be clearly laid out and pre-determined by the management team as milestones or measures reflecting that the change process is complete and that the organization has successfully made the necessary change. The role of the HR practitioner is to be able to read these signs, apply the metrics, measures and indicators and to then report back to the managers and employees that the organization has reached the point where the change process is “complete” inasmuch as that is possible and that the change is having the desired outcome as was envisaged at the outset of the change process.
Organisational change is here to stay and inevitable. HR practitioners have a fundamentally important role to play in this change process. They are not luxuries in organisations and with change, but can only claim to be value-adding and vital if they are leading the way and proving their mettle and their worth.