Why HR need to be first on the invite list when it comes to organisational change

Four Emperor Penguins standing on ice with one alone outside the group

When it comes to structural reorganisation, all roads eventually lead to HR’s door. From the Board, through the Line, to the individual employees affected as a result of organisational change – HR are asked to ‘help’ with not only the implementation of the change, but also to ensure that the ‘impact’ on individuals as well as the organisation is minimised. It’s no easy job. And one that many organisations continue to make hard for the HR team.

Despite the fact that HR, as the ‘People Experts’ should be involved in any change discussions from the outset, too often they are drafted in late in the process, for example, after the organisational design piece has been completed.  And this is a missed opportunity. Whilst many organisations exercise good practice, drawing on the full extent of HR’s capability, from planning and executing the organisational change to providing support through the activity and thereafter as part of ensuring the business achieves the objectives that it set out to achieve – their inclusion is far from universal.

Picking up the pieces

Drafting the HR team later on in the process puts them in a difficult position as they are often required to implement aspects of the change without having been fully consulted, informed or having been given an opportunity to influence the change. In essence they’ve been invited as late entrants to the party. Activities may already be underway and the wheels of change already set in motion, often with unintended consequences which could have been avoided with their involvement.

Where HR adds value

There’s been much written about why organisational change programmes do not achieve the results that were initially outlined. Unsurprisingly, the late introduction of HR is often cited as a contributory factor. Areas that benefit from early involvement of the ‘People Professionals’ include, amongst others, the following:

  • Development of robust communication strategies that take the culture of the organisation and its people into consideration
  • Early recognition of any employment legislation implications that may arise, mitigating claims of unfair or constructive dismissal through employment tribunals
  • Ensuring line managers are prepared and equipped with the requisite skills to manage and coach their teams through ambiguous and ever-changing scenarios
  • Application of the right change management model for the organisation and its objectives
  • Consideration of the broader organisational goals and their implications for the employees
  • Identification of key talent the organisation needs to retain and the development of specific engagement plans to ensure they do not leave
  • Exploration of alternative perspectives or approaches with engagement and input from employee representative groups to help shape, guide or comment upon the proposed change as opposed to a standoff and conflict between the organisation and said groups
  • Protecting the brand in particular with respect to future hiring and talent management which can be impacted negatively as a result of poor implementation of processes

Frequent studies have shown that many HR professionals feel that their expertise and ability to positively influence organisational change is under-utilised or, as is common, utilised too late in the process to be as effective as it could be. Of course the HR team need to be able to back up these claims and must genuinely be in a position to add value – the view that many HR folk are mired in process or are reactive as opposed to proactive is still widely held in some quarters.  Incorrect, maybe, but an obstacle that needs to be overcome nonetheless. Ways in which HR can do this include:

  • Create a brand that positions HR internally as the People Experts – the pulse of the organisation
  • Make sure that ‘people’ is at the top of the CEO’s agenda. It is for many, but keeping it a priority and at the forefront of conversations is key. After all, without engaged employees businesses will struggle.
  • Network across the business to understand the people challenges faced by other departments. Being visible and adding continual value will help to elevate HR’s position within the business.

Change under any guise can affect large parts of an organisation and can have far reaching effects on many. However, its chances of success will be significantly enhanced if well-motivated, skilled and talented HR professionals are part of the team from the outset. So, make sure the HR team are top of your invite list when it comes to change programmes.