The current economic crisis is a time of great change, and with change comes opportunity, writes David Creelman
HR leaders know a great deal more about
change processes than the typical en
gineer or financial analysis. HR under
stands the importance of engaging all the
stakeholders and extensive, ongoing, two-
way communications. HR also understands
how a system of rewards that works against
the change you seek will effectively derail any
change effort. HR understands organisation
al politics, how to assign accountability and
how diversity leads to more creative decision
-making. You may not think of yourself as a
change expert, but I hope this list reminds you
of how much you do know.
Anchors and identity
One idea about change that is not well known
comes from USC professors Chris Worley and
Ed Lawler (see their book Built to Change).
Paradoxically, they suggest that one of the
best ways to promote change is to identify
the things that won’t change.
For example, a company making expen
sive running shoes for the US market might
recognise it needs to change. If it tells its em
ployees “all options are open” or “anything
could happen” then that simply creates anx
iety. However, if the organisation says “We will
never give up on the athletic shoe business”,
that provides an anchor employees can hang on to. The organisation is letting the em
ployees know they may drop other lines of
business, they may change marketing strate
gies or they may move production – but they
won’t stop making and selling shoes.
The idea is that there are some things
that are core to the identity of the organisa
tion. The identity provides an anchor in
A slightly more nuanced way of looking at
this is to make clear what definitely won’t
change, what is unlikely to change, and what
is open to change. For example, the running
shoe company might also list core values that
will not change no matter what happens. They
might say it is very unlikely they would relo
cate their manufacturing plants; however, they
might say that they are eager to create new
types of athletic shoes and sell to consumers
outside the US.
By telling employees what won’t change,
what is unlikely to change and what is open
to change it both reassures them and helps
them focus their attention on the right things.
HR’s role in change
As with any good business manager, HR
should have an opinion on the future of the
business. If you agree with my economic fore
cast, then that suggests the organisation
should use the crisis as a time to embrace
change. HR leaders don’t get to decide on
strategy – that’s the CEO’s job – but they
should offer an opinion.
If you find the CEO agrees with the view
that change is necessary, then HR should
remind top management that it has expert
ise in change and can help with the process.
Here is where you begin to use that long
list of relevant skills and knowledge about
change I mentioned earlier. This is also where
you can use this new idea that identity acts
as a helpful anchor.
It’s a very simple exercise to ask leaders
what definitively won’t change, what proba
bly won’t change and what things are likely
to change. This information becomes an im
portant framework for your communication
to employees. It is an important tool for help
ing your organisation get through the eco
nomic crisis by creating the ability to adapt to
a changed world.
By David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research.firstname.lastname@example.org