HR managers as change managers

HR managers as change managers

The role of HR managers has grown from the ambit of payroll, recruitment and training, to more mature and broader areas like competency mapping, succession planning, and crisis and change management. Renuka Vembu asserts how HR managers need to be good change agents themselves

The ‘change’ factor

As the idiom goes, ‘Change is the only thing that is constant’, it is pertinent more-so-ever in the modern day and age, where organisations have to cope up with a host of factors on the lines of dearth in specialised skill sets, battling attrition, changing business demands and employee needs, increasing competitive edge, etc. The word ‘change’ in itself plays with the psyche of a person. It is certainly not an easy task to change; but then the graver concern is to understand and accept the fact that there is a need for change, and then to embark upon the transformation process. People, the underlying torch bearers and the campaign spear-headers, often contribute to being the key impediment factor. It is about their attitude and mindset towards acceptance, willingness to execute, and readiness to acknowledge the end result. When looking at change from the organisational content, it essentially boils down to people working for the company who have to adopt and apply to these change brought about by a dynamic business environment. But what often happens is the conspicuous lack of skills amongst the change agents who are closest to the people are supposed to be the key medium for managing the transformation-the HR managers.

“Change management requires more of organisational development competencies than HR competencies. HR managers must be very conversant with the change management models and be adept with diagnostic and intervention technology”

– Ullhas Pagey HR and organisational

development expert

Ullhas Pagey, a well-known HR and organisational development expert, and a visiting faculty at the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute Management Studies, Mumbai, is quick to point out that the competencies required to handle the change management issues, though they may fall into HR domain, are entirely different which run of the mill HR managers with generalist profile are not equipped with. “To be specific, it requires more of organisational development competencies than HR competencies. Though many HR guys would like to believe that they are good at it, the fact is something different,” added Pagey.

Most organisations also fail to realise that neither the top management nor the HR personnel are equipped to handle these changes, particularly in mid-sized companies. The top management should realise that decisions like mergers, demergers or alliances, apart from having financial angle, also has an HR angle. “Having realised this, ignoring such issues or not taking external help if the internal HR is not competent enough to handle this at an early stage can spell disaster,” stated Pagey.

From crafting to carrying

“It is the duty of the HR manager to ensure that the change, in any form, whenever bought in the organisation, is been accepted by all employees in a positive and more importantly in a constructive manner”

– Bhavesh Patel MD

Marck Biosciences

The concept of leading by example is not restricted to the immediate supervisors of a team, the middle-level cadre or the senior management. It is something that needs to be extended, penetrated and shown prominent evidence across all hierarchical levels, in all job functions and departments. Since the HR is thrust with the job of recruiting, managing and developing the work force, it is of utmost significance that they not only craft a particular process, but also carry it; they have to make the shift from being a distant observer to becoming an active participant. Bhavesh Patel, MD, Marck Biosciences, said, “In any organisation the HR team forms the base of the smooth working environment for the team. It is the duty of the HR manager to ensure that the change, in any form, whenever be brought in the organisation, is been accepted by all employees in a positive and more importantly in a constructive manner. Hence whenever the organisational behaviour goes for a change, the role of HR manager is not only important but inevitable.”

With the changing business dynamics, the traditional role of the HR team has become more evolved, with concepts like succession planning, change management, crisis management, etc. are coming to the foray. Alind Sharma, Senior Vice President, HR, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Limited, elaborated, “The key drivers for successful change management are clarity of strategy and end result desired from the change, consistency of approach and communication, early identification of individuals and processes that have a critical impact on the change process and its aftermath, the coaching of such individuals to handle issues arising from the change and managing expectations from the change. Almost all of these factors have a key role of line and strategic HR personnel in it. Given that, it is important for HR managers to be good change managers themselves such that they can in turn guide the process.”

“Change management is a highly specialised skill; it needs altogether a different mindset and orientation. HR managers must be very conversant with the change management models and be adept with diagnostic and intervention technology,” warned Pagey. The only practical and effective way for HR managers is to be involved with things beyond the HR function. They themselves need to be more open-minded.

The organisational impact

As it is rightly said, no organisation can grow without the growth of its employees. Likewise, no effort bears fruit without complete approval and participation of the task force engaged in it. Sharma viewed, “Organisational impact of the failure of HR managers to be effective change managers varies directly with the business impact of the change. Some of the manifestations of such failure can be seen directly in terms of poor business performance, reduction in efficiency and fall in productivity. Some of the indirect pointers can be attrition, fall in morale, failure to attract good talent (as word of mouth information spreads outside the organisation), waste of resources on needless training, etc.”

In any company which is planning to capture the change phenomenon, the HR team has to instil confidence amongst it employees regarding the uncertainty of the task outcome, change in roles and responsibilities, the capability and skills needed to execute it, etc. They do not have to have the vigilante watch all the while, what they need to do is some self-introspection and analysis.

Equipping for the transformation phase

When embarking on a change programme, what are the tools that HR personnel should be well-equipped with? Sharma explained, “I believe it starts with an understanding of the business-HR professionals need to be business professionals first-to be in sync with the business so as to understand the before, during and after of any change (planned or unplanned) in a business process. Then would be understanding how much of this change can be impacted or managed. This would be for three groups that go together viz. the strategic think tank involved (need not be the top guys), the line managers and HR. Then comes the stage of getting a marriage of thoughts between these three groups-without this, no successful change management is possible. This will also help the HR professional to further his/ her understanding and to make corrections. The penultimate steps involve creation of a change management plan and execution. Sounds simple, it needs to be, the Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle normally works here. In addition to this, HR professionals need to have skills in areas like facilitation, process design, design of training programmes that are tailored to the specific situation, etc. Last but not the least, they need to have belief in themselves, an ability to empathise with their client set and should enjoy the confidence of this client set (credibility). All these put together will help success.”

Handicaps and remedies

The handicaps that end up crippling the HR professionals are lack of awareness and realisation on their part, more than the lack of skill sets. Also, either their view of their role is narrow and constrained, or they do not have the requisite skill sets to perform the broader job functions. Patel stated, “Yes, there is a lack of skill sets within the core group of HR people themselves. Lack of effective leadership has been identified as an inhibitor of effective change. Hence proper training on the part of HR is very essential. Moreover where other internal factors are concerned like employees, they should try to absorb the fact that it is for the benefit of the organisation and themselves as well.” The solution he added would be, “It depends entirely on the personal skills of the HR manager. If he thinks that he does not have enough skills to motivate and encourage the employees to bring about the entire change management as a success, he should consult the higher authorities for the obstacle that he is facing or resort to other factors outside the organisation to improve his deficiencies.” While training can assist the HR professionals keep pace with changing times as also undertake their job responsibility with the utmost efficiency and maximum desired impact, it has its limitations when it comes to sharpening their change management skills. To be effective change managers they need to understand the larger business environment, be aware of the best practice, and most significantly, be open minded.