Changing change management

BY Hazel Dunbar
Executive Consulting Psychologist at Work Dynamics

“We don’t have the time, energy or budget for change management – that will have to come later.” – Anonymous HR Manager

The problem with “later” is that this particular organisation had been through multiple leadership and structural changes and was now embarking on another structural change under the newly appointed CEO. “Later” has become “now” and change management therefore needs to shift from a process used for large scale change such as a merger or restructure to becoming a day-to-day business process. Change management should not be a mopping up process to sweep up the debris of change – rather, it should build resilience and provide a vehicle for two-way communication.

Take for example the company T-Systems South Africa’s changes steered by their MD Mardia van der Walt-Korsten. It is possibly because she has a background in HR and clinical psychology that change management played such a defining role when T-Systems staff went through the trauma and uncertainty associated with mergers and acquisitions under her watch. Whatever the reason, taking change management seriously seems to have worked for them. The importance of change management as part of business was highlighted by Robert Kaplan (co-designer of the Balanced Scorecard), in a recent workshop in South Africa on executing strategy. He stressed that change management is a leadership imperative and not something that gets outsourced. In fact, any change in strategic direction requires change management.

For example, organisations seldom think of performance management system design and implementation as requiring change management. However, change management can be extremely beneficial in terms of focusing the efforts of every member of the organisation in the same direction through a well-designed performance management system.

In a fast-moving world, change management needs to become a natural way of life in business rather than an occasional mopping up intervention after traumatic change.

How can HR influence a change in leaders’ attitude towards change management?

  1. Understand change in context: As a business partner, HR managers can become more strategic by keeping abreast of current and future change in an organisation. They’ll need to develop a network within the organisation, allowing them to be sensitive to changing dynamics.
  2. Hone your skills as change partners: It might be stating the obvious, but in order to drive change and transfer knowledge to others, HR consultants need change management knowledge and experience. HR managers should drive change within the HR team, transferring knowledge about the organisation’s change within the HR team.
  3. Get it on the radar: Campaign to have change management on the agenda and in the budget for most organisational initiatives through educating leaders. Whenever there is a discussion on a new initiative, HR managers as part of EXCO should be asking questions around change management if the leaders are not already.
  4. Form key internal partnerships: Form partnerships with senior leaders, building trust around change management. Work closely with the marketing and communications team – if they understand what you are aiming to achieve, they can gear their communications accordingly. See the HR – Marketing relationship as a collaboration in change management.
  5. Upskill the organisation: Train leaders on change management and how most organisational initiatives relate to change management. Coach leaders to become change agents and not just supporters of changes.
  6. Measure change efforts: Work with leaders to identify measures of the change progress will help the organisation know when to commit further resources to the change management effort. For example: Are further resources required, is the communication programme getting the right message across, has the mood become more positive? You can conduct spot surveys to quickly establish whether your change management programme is on track or not.