Few could have predicted the world-altering changes of the past few years — the COVID-19 pandemic, historically high inflation, global unrest and sweeping social movements. Yet change itself is to be expected.
The average organization has incorporated five big changes over the past three years. And three-quarters of companies expect even more changes over the next three years, according to the management consulting company Gartner.
Companies that can manage change will be better positioned to succeed now and during future pivots. And yet, change initiatives fail more often than not. In a study by Gartner, about 50% clearly failed, 16% had mixed success and only 34% had clear success.
One reason companies struggle to adapt is that they don’t involve human resources (HR) until employees are unhappy with a change, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
To better manage change, utilize HR’s expertise. Involving your HR team in change management can help your organization stay on top of potential solutions and pitfalls at every stage.
What is change management?
Change management is the process of preparing for, delivering and following through on new business objectives, products and strategies.
Since 2020, change management has been front and center. One of the most universal challenges has been making the sudden switch from in-person to remote work, followed by the ongoing balance between remote, hybrid and in-person schedules.
Other common examples include modifications to benefits and compensation, paid time off, business strategies and corporate structures. But change management isn’t just about large-scale challenges. Smaller changes such as technology upgrades, training requirements and office layouts can positively or negatively affect your employees.
The best change management strategies address changes big and small. That’s why HR’s involvement is crucial to your success. Your HR team knows your employees inside and out, and their insights can minimize disruption to your organization.
SHRM advises involving HR in the following three steps to improve change management:
- Analyze the change.
- Create a communications plan.
- Monitor results.
Analyze the change
It’s vital to define a change well before it occurs. HR can help you evaluate questions such as:
- What is your reason for the change? Is it due to external factors, internal factors or both?
- Who will be impacted by the change? Is it more likely to affect employees, clients or customers?
- How are those impacted likely to react to the change?
- What is the time frame for your change?
- What are your measurements for success?
Once you have defined the change, HR can identify new roles or processes to bring it about. If a change will impact your employees, HR can help you predict their reactions.
HR can also help identify the employees most likely to support the new initiative. SHRM notes that employee support is crucial to change management. HR’s knowledge of your workforce will help you identify trusted employees with connections throughout your organization. You can provide training on the change to encourage them to talk positively about it to colleagues and explain its importance.
Addressing new expectations and potential conflicts is another key step in change management. HR can help you identify training opportunities for employee upskilling and reskilling, or the need for new talent.
With proper analysis, HR can help alleviate concerns before the change occurs.
Create a communications plan
Change management also requires a robust communication strategy. Again, this plays to the strength of your HR team, which is in regular contact with employees at all levels of your organization.
As you roll out a new initiative, ask HR to communicate early and often. It’s especially important to seek feedback from those affected. Contact employees through multiple avenues, including:
- Instant message
- One-on-one conversations
- Team meetings
By responding promptly to employee questions and criticisms, HR can demonstrate your organization’s responsiveness to employee needs. If an answer isn’t immediately available, HR will know the appropriate party to contact and get back to employees as soon as possible.
Your communications plan should include talking points so executives, supervisors and employee champions are delivering a consistent message.
Your communications should explain the change, why it’s necessary, and the role employees play in making it a favorable move for your organization. Providing a reason for the change can help employees get on board even if they don’t see a personal advantage. For example, noting that you are increasing vacation days for midcareer hires to improve recruitment, retention and growth goals can bolster support among employees who aren’t directly impacted by the change.
If employee roles will be changing, as in the case of a company restructuring, HR can analyze job requirements and prepare employees for new responsibilities.
For any change, your communications plan should identify points of contact for questions and concerns, and discuss key dates well in advance.
It’s vital to continue your communication efforts during and after implementation. Talk about the upside to employees, customers and anyone impacted by the change.
Even with all of your preparation, be ready for bumps along the way. Return to your talking points, and rely on HR and employee champions to pave the way.
An ongoing component of change management is creating metrics to judge your results. Measurements might include increased job satisfaction, employee retention, growth or profit, and customer service ratings.
Measuring results can help you make further adjustments as needed. These may include new guidance or training for employees and teams.
Use your metrics to celebrate success stories. And if the results aren’t what you hoped for, your measurements will be useful for adding, removing or adjusting processes as necessary.
Good or bad in the short run, your data will help you refine your change management practices for long-term success.
Continue to gather information
For more ideas on change management, talk with your benefits adviser. They can connect you to resources to guide your team through new initiatives. If changes go beyond the capacity of your current team, they can help you find consultants with change management experience and expertise.