What Is Change Management? Understanding the Evolution of Organizations
Working in human resources has been a natural fit for your personality. You get to put your natural love of working with people to good use as you help others navigate benefits programs, sign up for payroll and feel comfortable and heard in the workplace. You know you’re lucky to have such a fulfilling career.
Being part of an HR team is something you feel good about, but you’re also ready to take on new challenges that could expand your job duties and potentially your salary. If you’ve had your eye out for HR advancement opportunities, the world of strategic HR, and specifically change management, may have caught your attention.
What is change management? This HR role is vital to the success and development of any organization. Keep reading to learn all about this strategic HR focus area and how it affects employees at all levels of an organization.
It’s no secret people like having a routine, and changes to those routines can cause plenty of stress or unexpected headaches—just try asking your Aunt Mary to make changes to the plan for your yearly holiday get-togethers. People and organizations have a sort of inertia, so when the time comes where change needs to be made, extra thought, effort and planning needs to happen to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
So in a nutshell, change management is a systematic approach for helping an organization navigate all aspects of a change, no matter how big or small.
“Change management is the process of successfully preparing, educating and implementing organizational changes within companies,” says Rudeth Shaughnessy, owner of Copy My Resume and an HR director with more than 20 years of experience.
Change management operates on two levels: first, easing a company’s employees through a new change so their transition is as smooth as possible, and at a higher level, working with company leaders to develop an organization’s plan for the future. Change management at both levels is vital to the continued growth and success of a business.
At the employee level, change management can affect the morale of an entire workforce. “Change can be difficult, especially when your staff are already accustomed to their own routine,” says Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics. “If you do not implement a change management strategy your company will lose valuable time as staff struggles to adapt, or even be met by backlash and poor morale.”
Change can be hard for employees to accept. Successful change management prevents “hard changes” that leave employees feeling confused and discontent, Shaughnessy says. Masterson agrees, noting that change management is only successful if it supports employees, the very people who keep a business running in the first place. “The process of change management ensures that rather than your staff being asked to sink or swim, they are aware of the new policy or procedure, and can incorporate it confidently into their daily practice.”
HR professionals tasked with change management aren’t just responsible for supporting employees after a change has taken place, but with being present through every step of the process. “This means that they must think ahead and plan for any possible problems that can or will occur,” says Charlie Worrall, HR executive at Imaginaire Digital.
Change management is sort of an “invisible” discipline—when it’s done well, members of the organization barely notice it. But when a change management plan is lacking, it becomes abundantly clear as employees are likely to grow frustrated or confused.
At a higher level, change management focuses on guiding an organization toward its vision for the future. “Change management is the ability of an organization to continually innovate and successfully adapt,” says Matt Campana, HR manager at Revolution. If an organization fails to continuously look ahead and plan for necessary changes, it risks becoming stagnant—or even obsolete.
“Businesses that have a low tolerance for change will be beat by organizations that are equipped and trained to not only deal with change but also use it as a competitive advantage,” says Campana. Especially in today’s era of rapidly evolving technology, you don’t need to look far to find examples of companies that have folded under the pressure of failing to keep up with the times.
HR professionals tasked with change management work coordinate with upper-level leaders to determine where their organization is headed next. Not only does change management consider a company’s long-term goals, but it also needs to objectively pinpoint gaps where it’s not keeping up with changing technology or its competitors’ business model. Thanks to this strategic thinking, change management can be directly responsible for keeping companies moving forward and growing.
You might think that a role as important as change management would only be entrusted to CEOs and high-level executives, but that’s not the case. “Senior executives have a big role to play, but the HR department is the driving force,” Worrall says. “They plan, maintain and execute everything.”
The HR officers who collaborate with company leaders in change management projects must have excellent people skills and be ready for anything. Uncertain and unpredictable situations are sure to come up when dealing with company-wide changes. Having a background working in other HR positions also shows executives that you have the necessary experience to take on bigger responsibilities.
Having certification and specialized training is definitely a plus for anyone in this important role, but even entry-level HR employees can take initiative to stand out as strong agents of change for their company. “If you are not in a position to lead change projects, you can still be a key factor in ensuring change is successful in your organization by being a champion or spokesperson of change,” Campana says.
Now that we’ve tackled what change management is and how it influences an organization, could this be the focus of your HR career? While all levels of an HR department play a hand in helping organizations navigate change, leadership sets the overall course. If you’ve got your mind on climbing the HR career ladder and are considering further education, then you’ll want to check out our article, “6 Human Resources Careers You Can Launch with a Master’s Degree.”