HR best practice tips for leading organisational change

by Janie Smith14 May 2014
Many companies and organisations have to contend with volatile markets, which can lead to the need for major changes to keep the business viable.

HR must be involved from the start in the change process necessary to help a business achieve its short and long term objectives, Shaun Palmer, former chief human resource officer at Xstrata Coal, told HC Online.

“You need to be directly involved in the planning process. The most recent one I was involved in was a rationalisation of NSW and Queensland coal businesses into one business. You need to work through what we term the rules of engagement. When you change the strategy of the business, the scope and structure must follow.”

Palmer’s background is predominantly in mining and resources and change within those industries is driven largely by commodity prices and the exchange rate.

He was working in oil and gas when the oil price dropped from $140 a barrel to somewhere in the mid-to-low 20s.

“Of course, the various operations and processes you’re supporting will cease because it becomes uneconomical. When I talk about change, I’m talking about responding to those circumstances and also responding to the structure and the changing structural needs of the business to meet your objectives.

“You need to define what work needs to be done, where the work needs to be done and who is best to perform that work, moving forward.”

Once you have a broad structure of where you want to be, the next step is communication –communicating to the workforce, the customers and the suppliers, the process that you’re going through, he said.

“Once you know where you’re changing to, the next process is how you get there. The question of how you get there is to try to minimise disruption where possible and if the decision needs to be made to cut and to move, that process is done and communicated as quickly as possible to people involved.

“Once you’ve commenced that process, you’ve got to live with that. It’s very much a position where you have to be front and centre. I lived in Brisbane for four months while we closed an office up there and that was on the basis that the worst thing that someone can do from a corporate role is to go in and announce the change and then disappear.”

When the necessary changes have been made, it’s a matter of continuing communication, dealing with those who are departing and those who are remaining and making sure all the processes are running as smoothly as possible in that area, said Palmer.

“It will be disruptive, your plans aren’t always going to work, people you may identify for alternate roles may not be acceptable, so you’ve got have continual feedback.”

In his experience, daily meetings to update the workers on what was happening and where the process was at and finding out what issues needed addressing, helped keep the process moving forward.
  • Shaun will give a presentation on Leading Organisational Change as a Change Agent at the HRD Executive Leadership Forum, 18-19 June in Sydney. Click here for more information


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