[Podcast] Role of HR in the Change Management Process

Posted in : HR Updates on 2 August 2019
Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

Change management is the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome. Change management incorporates the organisational tools that can be utilised to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realisation of change. In this latest Podcast Hugh and Mairead discuss the role of HR in the change management process including factors for successful change. 


Lynsey: Welcome to HR Bitesize podcast in conversation with Mairéad Regan and Hugh McPoland from Clarendon Executive. Clarendon Executive works with companies across NI to help maximise their leadership capabilities across all aspects of the employment life cycle from executive search through to organisational and staff development. Clarendon's expertise spans the private, public and third sectors. The firm focuses on identifying talent at board and senior executive level across the management disciplines including general management, commercial marketing and digital and operational effectiveness leadership roles such as operations, finance, risk compliance, technology and HR.

Clarendon have recently been joined by Hugh McPoland and Mairéad Regan as associate consultants. Hugh is previously director of HR at BSO. Hugh has a considerable track record in organisational change along with considerable knowledge and experience in assessing the leadership credentials of directors across the public sector.

Mairéad also joins Clarendon as an associate consultant supporting both post-hire executive development and senior executive performance and progression. Previously Group HR director at UTV Media PLC, Mairéad has more than 25 years' experience in HR at a senior level.

This podcast is a must have lesson for any HR manager or director covering hot topics such as work-life balance, authentic selection, stepping up to director level, change management, and the importance of employer brands. Our easy to digest format makes these short but informative podcasts, perfect for listening to at leisure in the car or during your lunch break.

Importance of Communicating Need for Change

Hugh: Any conversation about change management does take us back to that old adage with change is the only constant, you know, everyone is changing. I think the only differences is the speed of change potentially where you are in the trajectory of change, whether you're starting it, you're in the middle of it, or you just wind it up and getting ready for the next one. 

I think it is inevitably in most of our organisations that change is successful if people are committed to it and understand what it's about. You know, when we talk about some ICT products, for example, or technology products, a lot of organisations have a product cycle of perhaps 68 weeks or 68 months and they're constantly reinventing themselves or selling us as consumers new packages. I'm thinking immediately of Apple.

Apple launched a new set of phones in September, and then lo and behold, there's another new set coming in November. I think they're about to launch another set of phones in the next month or two as well. But people don't change that quickly. And from my experience, again, I've worked all my life in the public sector and did have an advantage I think of working with the Review of Public Administration team where they were kind enough to do a couple of study visits as to what successful change looked like in the public sector both in Sweden, Finland and Canada and the United States.

And for me, the lesson I got from that was that the thing that really makes change stick is a fiscal and a financial imperative. Where you have that imperative, change has to happen, has to actually come through. Some of the things I think which a lot of HR people probably have experienced is we want to change things to make things better. But managers and organisations always look in terms of, is it going to prove the bottom line? And I think HR people need to recognise that any change that they drive needs to make a difference to organisational success and performance and particularly in the financial sector.

I think one of the things that, that I've learned in terms of change management is about being clear. The thing I always strived for and failed too often is about speed of change. You know, two years ago, probably even three years ago NI, a Northern Ireland executive announced a change in the health sector. It still hasn't been achieved partly because the assembly, the executive isn't there to take it forward. But the people who are affected by that and there's 600 people who work very diligently, very hard are still waiting to understand what that change means for them. I think that's just a probably an example of a public sector change which hasn't some work and unfortunately we get affected by political influences, which slow down the process and also legislative processes or changes we want to make, which we're told has a two-year legislative timetable.

Interesting, I'm doing some work in a European country and in Greece actually, and when they keep telling us we have to change the law to do certain things that were recommended and say, "Well, that's not a problem. We can do that in six weeks." "Really. Great." The sort of I thought, "Can we have some of that please in Northern Ireland?" But I think those are the challenges of change.

One shouldn't be too disbound by change management, but I always think of John Kotter's change management processes is about successful change management is about creating an imperative ideally consensus that things do need to change. Getting a good team around you to drive that change and be very clear about the communication process. And we talk about all the various change management tools and Kotter is probably the exemplar around that in management terms, but in reality and for HR working through change in organisations communication and being aware of how it impacts about people is key.

Sometimes I think there are three little questions and if you can answer the three questions affirmatively to staff, it makes change happen quickly. And that is one, do I have a job? If you say yes, that's a great start. Do I have the same salary? If you say yes, that's you're well on your way. And the third question is quite often I get asked is, do I have to change location? If we are able to give yes, yes, no, we can by and large go through change quickly. It's when one of those answers it's not liked by an individual, that's when it becomes.

And certainly, we've tried public sector change to give support to people through that, through a range of sort of initiatives, whether we facilitate their retraining or reskilling or even to facilitate their leaving the organisation. Because sometimes people can't cope with change and the change that there may be fundamentally opposed to and you have to allow people to exit around that. But for me, a lot of it's about communication and being absolutely clear what the purpose is.

Understanding Resistance to Change

Mairéad: I mean, just to pick up on that point that Hugh is making, I think a key role for HR and the change management process is to understand the resistance to change and what's behind the resistance. And is it resistance to the content of the change or quite often is it the resistance to the process of change? And when you look at that resistance to the process, is it, as Hugh mentioned, is it a feeling of insecurity about a loss of role? Is it a feeling of loss of control? Is it just the overall uncertainty that it brings? Is it inertia? You know do people just couldn't be bothered changing, or is it the inconvenience?

And I think if HR can do a piece of work around that discussing with the impacted individuals where that resistance is coming from, then appropriate measures can be put in place to reassure or to provide the training or to provide the additional communication or the support that's required to address that resistance. Because if you can sell the benefits of what the change is and it has to be not just the benefits for the organisation, it's the benefits or the impact for the individual, then I think people will be more open to the process.

Hugh:  I think that's right in terms of now let's go back to the Kotter change management process. It's about being absolutely clear as to what and why you're changing. And when you get that clarity and in many ways some of the changes happen involved here are politically driven and the people are operating in it say, "Well, we don't agree with politics." That makes it so much more difficult. But when you get that consensus around what the change is and have a clarity about what improvements the change is going to make, I think changes can happen and can happen quickly.

But the resistors are so strong. People don't like change. And that's the starting point too. People just don't like change. And it's important for HR along with the line managers and along with the strategic leaders in the organisation, taking the time to explain the why and the how and the timescale. And for me, I think successful change happens when it happens quickly. I think that's about big organisational structural changes. But there's also things which happen on a lower level. I think sometimes organisations have to be culturally aware that they need to allow their staff to innovate, change the way they do things.

But in that change process, it's okay to fail, because failure is simply indicating that that didn't work. You know? And we all know the stories about Edison tried a thousand times before he got an electrical bulb to work, and it changed the world. So, but for some reason organisations or many organisations don't allow their people to try something and fail without some repercussion. When, in fact, really innovative organisations will say, "Try fail, try again and find a way to work." And that's something I think if you allow people to do that and constantly innovate and change the work they do under their control; organisations grow and develop and become more successful. But you talk about big organisational structures like the ones I'm mostly involved in or had been involved in, and it is so much more difficult, but it's about that big structural change potentially like mergers or acquisitions in the private sector and government reform in the public sector.

But on a day-to-day basis, people have to constantly innovate what they're doing because the world around them is changing. And I think organisations really need to enable people and give them time to think about what they could do differently and where it doesn't work out, mark it down as that didn't work, now let's try something different and not have that blame culture or that process. And if someone tries something new or innovative that they're going to be sanctioned, that in many ways, perhaps the Americans have a right view on this is you just keep on trying till you get it right and you encourage people to get it right.

Importance of Ongoing Change

So that in many ways I think that's sort of a bit of a ramble takes us to two points of one big organisational change, which happens, well, in the public sector more often than it should, but probably in the private sector through mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, big, big issues. But there's also that constant day-to-day change where it is a cultural thing where people need to be encouraged. Just, this isn't working. I'm doing something.

I always imagine the story where when we first started to use agency workers. There was one guy came in and was required with the departments to complete a spreadsheet. And once he completed the spreadsheet, he printed it off, put it in their filing cabinet. And after four months of doing this, asked the manager, "Why?" and then told you're not paid to think. Now the sham at the time I thought I said, "Well, actually you are." But that resistance at line to somebody saying, why am I doing this even? Why not change the process? And now we will think, why you even printing this off to put in a filing cabinet when it's an Excel spreadsheet?

But it's line managers, again, potentially linking into some of the other podcasts about employer branding. People want to go to work, have a sense of purpose and be able to look and say, "That's not working better, I can improve it and have that freedom to do so." So at that very local level change and enabling people to change is really important for them to be successful in work. But if you simply send someone in to say, "This is the way we've always done it." You're not going to keep people very long. You're not going to keep your employer brand positive. You'll end up having difficulty recruiting staff, and you have to have really big change then and little incremental changes are really good for an organisation and people should be encouraged to do that.

Mairéad: And I think that encouragement of risk taking, and innovation is really important, I think. I think there is a growing realisation of that for, for businesses to survive, they need to be able to change it so it's not just about changes happening for changes' sake. It is for survival. So, and I think where individuals are empowered to make those decisions, to take those risks and also to show an element of creativity in their job that people then have more ownership of the outcome of that.

I also think there's a responsibility on HR to ensure in any change process that they plan for and create short-term wins rather than them being an accidental by-product of the change. I think in terms of selling that change, it's important that HR can see, look, in the short term, yes, there may be some pain, there may be changes. We're going to have to change systems or processes or structures or whatever. But that through that almost as HR practitioners, we need to consider the impact of that on and what would sell it. Not just the big win for all the survival of the business or, yes, people would say, oh yes, I still have a job and that's important.

But on a day-to-day basis, what's the impact and, and are there opportunities there that we, you can say by doing this it makes the workflow better or you there's less blockages or we're less pressurised at the end of the week where the deadline is or you know, what are the quick wins? It's important spending time on those.

Hugh: Absolutely and again, it's about an organisation taking the time to celebrate that, and celebrate it in a way which, again, improves its branding. Not just celebrate it with staff having a cup of tea and a bun upon the Friday afternoon, whatever. But it's about getting it out, so everybody knows those successes, but equally everybody knows that, okay, we tried a change it didn't work. So, everybody else don't try that one because that's a waste of energy. But looking in terms of constantly encouraging people, and it goes back to some of the recruitment issues. But very clear, do you want your organisation to be one, which is dynamic, constantly evolving, constantly changing to meet market circumstances?

That's about recruiting the right people. And that's about getting the right people in terms of the employer branding. And so we've got a couple of podcasts and they all come together in a very integrated way when we talk about change management, because if you've got the recruitment right and you've recruited the right people who are prepared to be innovative, take the appropriate level of risk, prepared to learn from failure, you've got the right selection process. And you also will encourage more people or the same sort of mind to come into the organisation. And that's sort of a constantly vibrant and dynamic organisation that's been created will constantly self-generate and reinvent itself for the future.

Communication of Change – Where to Start?

But I think that the big issue is that some of the big organisational structures, for me it's about communication and the difficulty that sometimes we have is that particularly in public sectors, it can be so slow. You're almost saying our communication is today we don't have anything to say. People get really frustrated with that. So, I think for me, and those big ones, it's about speed. It's about agility in terms of moving things forward. If a change becomes a glacial erosion, it will never work. It needs to be dynamic. It needs to be quick.

But in that HR, have a lead, working with line managers to actually make sure people understand what it's about and how it impacts upon them and how they could be supported. And the question we always ask ourselves is, where do you start?

And sometimes we've come to the conclusion we need to start at the bottom and reassure the bottom of the structure. But sometimes you need to start at the top because if you get the top sorted, it helps everything else because they get more relaxed. The people who are leading the change, if they get settled and committed and reassured about their future there, it's easier for them to reassure other people.

If you did it the other way around, you're sort of going, "That's okay." You're sorted but I’m not sorted and I’m your manager. And that's a judgment call. But the change, the really successful change, I think, is about looking after people that you're in a process and giving them as much support as possible. Some of that's about reskilling, some about retraining.  Some is about leaving. But one thing that's absolutely clear it's about constancy of purpose is what is it that it's about, and what's it's supposed to do.

Mairéad: And an openness to change that purpose.

Hugh: Yes.

Mairéad: So that in the process where you're trying to understand the resistance, where the change is happening, if you are genuinely listening to the people impacted and the people who are going to be affected, rather than I have a project plan and I’m going to work to this project plan and overly managing that process, being genuinely open to change it. So, if it doesn't make sense or have tweaks here, improve it for everybody. I mean in one sense we're saying here about employees taking risks and being flexible, that needs to be reflected in the management and that very much from above being open to yet there's, there is an overall reason why we're doing this. There is an overall plan, but that plan itself is flexible.

Hugh: I think that because when as you say that I'm thinking of our last restructuring that I was involved in the health sector with the creation of the health and social care board and BSO. And we got into that very quickly because we used the same process the trusts did and I think we probably weren't agile enough to sort of say that worked for trusts, but this is different. And we stuck with the plan that was created three years earlier and that created some dissent in that the change process. On reflection, we probably should've said we're doing top three and then we'll do something different because it is different.

So, I think it is about the agility of the change managers to recognise that worked in the past, that worked there, but that may not necessarily work here, and being adaptable. But when you do that, be very clear as to the reasons why because we find you did that there, but you didn’t do that with us. Why? It's it by just having constant stream of communication and explaining what you're doing?

Lynsey: It's about those change managers not underestimating the impact that the overall plan has on a day to day and ways and even that impact of change in that process of not printing that document and filing it can have on them individually. You know, people sometimes get lost in that, you know, the small things and the overall plans as you say, it's about changing and being able to adapt and change that.

Mairéad: And if you can, providing the space and time for them to get their heads around it and to think about it and to discuss it and to . . . There's an urgency to get the change done quite often because it's for survival reasons, but at the same time if it's rushed through, your people will feel trodden on and then feel they haven't had the opportunity. So, there's a balance because obviously, as you say, quick change is probably better than a long drawn out overly managed inaction. But there is something about if it impacts on the individual, the individual needs a bit of time to get their head around it and to buy into it, to try it out, to give feedback. So, if you can provide that time, that would be the ideal.

Lynsey: It impacts every single day of their working life. So it's really important.

Mairéad: Absolutely.

Hugh: No, I think the point about change managers understanding the impact. I was talking to somebody last week who works in London and already rumours are out in that organisation of less than expected performance bonuses and potentially significant job losses in the next two or three months. And nobody knows what that means for them. They start to know this week sometime, but that would be that . . . They'll have that done probably at three months. The criticism I would make, I'm responsible for this criticism because I helped shaped some of these processes in public sector that could take a year or two years.

So that's the point I make is those people that are affected, that period of uncertainty is over within two or three months. It's done. It's dusted. That organisation does give a lot of support to its people. But in public sector organisations, we expect people to go through this regime of constant erosion of change and not necessarily support them as best we can or as best we should. And sometimes it should be sharp, quick, and move on and recognise that in six months' time, well, we didn't really do that properly, let's just constantly change it again. But that leaves people at real risk of stress. Constant change, change over.

Mairéad: That's a good point. Just to that, that it is really important at the end of that process to stop and reflect back and get feedback. Because your opinion on how it went may not be the reality of the person, the staff's experience. So, get feedback. What could have been done better? What could be done differently in the future?

And the other very valid point there is about supporting the individuals and on occasions that support may be to leave the business and if they're leaving the business, you know, involving other organisations like Clarendon, where you're looking at outplacement support, where you're looking at coaching, where you're looking at from a very practical level, somebody coming in to talk about what benefits are available, but ensuring that it's not a case of you're not part of the new future. You're therefore gone. It's actually in the exiting of the business supporting the individuals to do that, which again, links into another session, the employer branding, so that when they leave, they're leaving saying, "Okay, my job went, but in that exiting process I was supported the whole way."

This article is correct at 02/08/2019

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Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Mairéad Regan. Contact telephone number is +44 (0) 28 9072 5750 or email Mairead.Regan@clarendonexecutive.com

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