Change management has long been a core function of human resource departments. From job changes to technology implementations to corporate reorganizations, HR has smoothed transitions from the old way of working to the new.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought change so sweeping that even the most adept HR teams have been challenged to keep employees engaged and productive. Whether it was the sudden shift to remote working or re-focusing organizational priorities due to market changes or preparing offices for the safe return of employees, HR has kept employees motivated and companies moving.
Yet even with all that is behind, much lies ahead for organizations and their HR teams as companies adapt to the new normal.
Organizational design and change management is a top priority for 46% of HR leaders, according to a blog post on Gartner’s top priorities for HR leaders in 2021. That placed it second among all priorities, behind only building critical skills and competencies, which was cited as a top priority by 68% of the more than 800 HR leaders that Gartner surveyed.
“Many organizations have experienced, in trying to respond at speed to the effects of the pandemic, that their years-long focus on efficiency has actually left them with rigid structures, workflows, role design and networks that don’t meet today’s needs or flex with fast-changing conditions,” Gartner wrote.
So, companies are revisiting everything from technology to work design to personnel and processes as they seek ways to sense changing conditions sooner and respond quicker. Organizational change will be constant and managing it will be crucial in doing so. Knowing the following trends will help HR teams keep employees engaged and companies efficient through effective change management.
1) Continuous change management improves outcomes.
“HR functions, with the perception that their primary focus should be personnel issues or the employee experience, entered 2020 ill-equipped to handle this year’s challenges,” Sapient Insights Group noted in its 2020-2021 HR Systems Survey.
“In this new era, an Outcome-Focused approach to HR shifts the focus from reactionary to visionary — a vision that supports achieving business outcomes in a sustainable and ethical manner.”
An outcome focus broadens what HR does and how it measures success, connecting financial metrics to critical employee outcomes such as employee health and safety, engagement, diversity, and the workforce experience, as well as additional long-term business outcomes like market share, brand, and innovation, Sapient Insights Group explained.
HR can contribute to a company’s success by establishing itself as a strategic business partner that gives leaders and employees the data and information they need to succeed during times of change.
“Whether change is driven internally by strategic initiatives, or in reaction to external forces as experienced in 2020 — all change impacts people, culture, procedures, technology, and available data. Change management efforts are designed to assess the impact of change, drive that change, and ultimately achieve a sustainable outcome,” Sapient Insights Group noted.
HR teams that embrace a culture of continuous change management are 40% more likely to be viewed as a strategic partner, Sapient Insights Group noted. They also outperform peers at organizations that do not use continuous change management by 21% in terms of HR, talent, and business outcomes.
A company creates a culture of change management by continuously assessing all change events, with ongoing governance, communication, feedback mechanisms, and measurement to ensure change goals are being achieved and creating positive outcomes over time, Sapient Insights Group explained.
Continuous change management includes a company’s:
- HR systems Strategy;
- Selection Management;
- Implementation Management;
- Maintenance and Optimization; and
- Vendor Relationship Management.
“Real change necessitates a shift away from thinking of change management as a once-and-done initiative to the creation of an adaptable organization with the skills and resources needed to support continuous change management,” Sapient Insights Group wrote.
2) Proven principles provide the foundation for successful change management.
“How organizations lead and manage change is what distinguishes companies that thrive from those that merely survive, or worse yet — fail,” Gallup wrote in a blog post on initiating change management.
“The kind of changes today's organizations face are complex, far-reaching, and multidimensional, yet the most effective leaders navigate these changes by relying on proven principles.”
Gallup offers seven foundational principles for successful change management.
- Clearly articulate the vision for change.
- Involve the right people: limited vs. broad involvement.
- Communicate the right information at the right time.
- Always account for resistance to change.
- Celebrate short-term wins without declaring premature victory.
- Effectively anchor the change to the organization.
- Always plan for change to be "the only constant."
“All organizations face change, but few achieve their intended outcomes,” Gallup wrote in a blog post on getting employees on board with change management. “Because change initiatives are so frequent and challenging, leaders who consistently navigate them successfully will gain an advantage over others.”
3) Managing change prevents employees from becoming fatigued.
Change can be exhausting and today’s employees can be expected to be plum worn out given the non-stop parade of financial, emotional, and physical concerns that the pandemic has presented. In fact, employees’ risk of change fatigue is higher than ever, according to a Gartner blog post on how to reduce the risk of employee change fatigue.
“The amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued is half what it was last year,” said Jessica Knight, vice president, Gartner, at Gartner ReimagineHR Conference, taking place virtually in the Americas and EMEA. “Employees’ ability to absorb change has plummeted precisely at the time when more organizations need change to reset.”
Employee engagement and productivity could decrease if a company ignores the risks of change fatigue, as workers may burnout or disengage. HR teams must always be vigilant given that day-to-day changes such as moving to a new manager or team can be more damaging than a “big bang,” according to Gartner’s research.
“HR leaders therefore need to rethink where they invest time, attention and energy to manage change,” Gartner suggests. “Consider, for example, the timing of support. It’s common to offer support when news of a change is announced, but employees experience the reality of that change later — which is when they actually need change management support.”
Gartner notes that “progressive organizations” use an “open-source” approach that “actively engages employees in all facets of change management, instead of using traditional top-down mandates.”
Building trust and team cohesion also reduce the risk of change fatigue. “The best approach to managing change and reducing change fatigue is to focus on how employees experience change, not just the outcomes of changed behaviors,” Gartner says. “By thinking about the desired experience first, leaders can work backward to identify the specific change actions that are needed to create that experience.”
Managing change effectively has been essential in helping companies survive — or even thrive — during the pandemic. But change management will remain just as important — if not become even more vital — as organizations continue to evolve. As usual, HR will be in the middle of the evolution — and will be able to contribute to organizational success through successful change management.
Providence Technology Solutions knows that managing change can be difficult for companies and their employees. Our consultants help you with your change management, starting with initiating the right approach that works for you and your team for the highest employee engagement.