How can HR be an effective ‘change leader’?

The pressure is on for HR to drive organisational change – how ready are you?

How can HR be an effective ‘change leader’?

We’re in the era where change is the only constant in our lives.

Not too long ago, mundane activities like hailing cabs and flipping through TV channels used to be a thing. Now words like ‘Grab’ and ‘Uber’ have become verbs in our vocabulary – “I’ll Uber over now”.

And recently a Deloitte report essentially called the time of death on traditional cable TV, with almost three out of four households in the US subscribed to at least one streaming service, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

If the whole world around us is changing, nothing will stop ‘change’ from hitting our offices – not the most resistant employee or a leader stuck in their legacy ways. Is HR ready to be the transformational leader for such disruptive times?

Change is coming
Digital transformation may seem overwhelming at first, but it can actually be seen in the little details at work. For instance, work is no longer a place you go to, but a thing you do.

As long as you’re accountable, contactable and have access to Wi-Fi, some companies are willing to offer their employees the coveted privilege to work remotely from wherever – your home, a hip coffee place or even a dream co-working space in Bali.

There’s also the shift from paper to online forms for things like leave application and claim submissions.

As little and inevitable these changes may seem, nothing is ever easy when an entire organisation of diverse workers is involved. And as the head of human resources, change management will remain HR’s top role.

According to recent research by Gartner, 75% of CHROs say change management takes up more of their time now. What’s more, the pressure is on, with 73% of CEOs and 66% of HR heads expecting HR to implement change faster than it did three years ago.

This is probably because about 66% of change success factors relate to talent now. However, the traditional top-down approach to managing and implementing change aren’t working, and leaders are increasingly dissatisfied with the speed and low success rate of change implementation.

The harsh reality is although 75% of organisations expect to multiply the types of major change initiatives in the next few years, only one in three have reported clear successes. A whopping half of all change initiatives have failed, with a further 16% seeing mixed results.

What’s tech got to do with it?
What should be blamed for the poor success rate? According to Telstra, organisations are failing to digitally transform due to a lack of focus on people and processes, and an over-emphasis on technology.

The study also points out that organisations that are highly digitally mature make it a point to focus on the right culture, right people and right processes.

At a recent HR Tech Summit panel, Gary Lee, Global Head of Leadership and Organisational Development at Sivantos Group shared why HR needs to first understand their crucial role to improve their success rate.

“I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what the role that HR plays in the change management journey is,” Lee said. “For some, we’re in the driver seat […] The scary part is…we don't have the key.”

What he meant was despite being arrowed to drive change, there are still levels of approvals and buy-in that need to take place with the leadership team. There’s finance for the budget, IT for feasibility of the tech project, and sometimes even the CEO gets involved.

“When it comes to change leadership, it’s about opening the leaders’ minds first,” he said. “If you don’t even have them on top with the change journey, [what’s the point?] As HR professionals we know we do a lot, but even to today, [sometimes] we have a hard time convincing our peers that we’re doing something good.”

Going beyond HR
On the flipside, fellow panellist Chee-Wei Tan, global head of HR (Shell Energy) at Shell, thinks it’s high time HR looks at change leadership from a broader perspective.

“We are also coming to the realisation that it’s not only about HR leading change and managing change,” Tan said. “It’s also about creating the change leadership capability across the organisation.”

She added that it’s important to not just focus on the “HR changes”, but to always consider the overall change that the organisation will go through, given the “increasingly complex external environment” that we operate in.

Which is why while change management might previously have been expected of those with ‘domain knowledge’ like specialised HR roles or consultants, she said that the responsibility now lies on all leaders – regardless of function or rank – to figure out how to drive and build the capability to thrive and change.

“So, before we get down to defining what that change roadmap looks like and what the milestones, timelines and all that, it’s really about talking to people,” she said. “It’s about involvement. It’s about engagement. It’s about recognising that nobody has a monopoly of the right answer.

“And just having that humility and approach to ask the broader organisation [for input]. Often, that sets us up for success in terms of what will be well received from a change management perspective, whatever outcome it is that we’re driving towards.

“So increasingly, defining change in people terms.”

Free newsletter

Our daily newsletter is FREE and keeps you up-to-date with the world of HR. Please complete the form below and click on subscribe for daily newsletters from HRD Asia.

Recent articles & video

Inside AirAsia's digital transformation

Singapore raises efforts to improve employee health

What are the benefits of team building?

9 tell-tale signs of employee burnout

Most Read Articles

Are e-signed documents legal in Singapore?

Fun Friday: 25 annoying buzzwords that irritate employees

Is your boss a corporate psychopath?