Four primary roles in change
• Change leader/owner, taking full responsibility for the planning and implementation of their own change project. The most obvious of these would be an HR director transforming all or part of the HR function, but it could also be on a smaller scale, for example a restructuring of a team or the introduction of a new intranet-based service.
• Change educator, bringing specialist knowledge and expertise to help clients understand more about the structure and process of successfully managing change. This will often fall to the centre of expertise specialists and may involve running workshops, designing practical tools or making available other resources, such as reading materials or theoretical models.
• Change advisor, working with clients directly through the process of designing and implementing change, challenging and guiding them to get it right. This role will often be the remit of the HR business partner, for example in the restructuring of the sales function, or could also be played by the HR director in the case of wholesale organisational change.
• Change participant, being part of a change that affects them personally. In this role any HR practitioner can use their knowledge of change to set their expectations of the process, troubleshoot problems and understand and manage their own and others’ reactions to events. Achieving mastery involves first understanding the architecture of successful change: having a clear picture of all the elements necessary for a sound process, built on a solid foundation. HR practitioners can add huge value in change situations by guiding the organisation to pay attention to all the important aspects, even when it is unpopular and may seem unnecessary to those eager for swift action. There will also be skills, tools, methodologies and interventions they can use as the change progresses, but their greatest value can be in the quiet insistence that sufficient time is spent on laying the foundations.
The architecture of change
There are four primary architectural components of change that HR practitioners can check are understood, tested and satisfied to ensure there will be a meaningful and sustainable impact on the organisation and its performance:
All four components are equally important, but they do not necessarily all receive equal attention from the designers and implementers of change. In our fast-moving world, action is often valued more highly than careful and thoughtful planning. Decision-makers can become intransigent when Challenged to expose and re-examine their reasoning. Leaders often believe they can force their plans through, regardless of known problems with previous efforts at change and prefer to plough ahead, rather than enquire into and anticipate foreseeable resistance, problems or blocks. Attention is frequently centred solely on the technical aspects which, although crucial, will not in themselves deliver easy or lasting change. All too often impatience, desire for action and belief in hierarchy result in leaders ignoring the human impact of the change, believing people will “do as they’re told” or “just have to get on with it”.
Paying insufficient attention to one of the components will not necessarily cause an entire change project to fail, but it is extremely likely to make it more painful to implement and more difficult to sustain.
There is a natural sequence of when to focus on each of the components, although the process is not linear by any means.
- Examining and getting very clear about the relevance must precede all else: if people are unable to understand why there is a need to change and if that reason is not meaningful, traction will never be gained. This is the pre-planning stage.
- Once a clear and compelling need for change has been established planning can begin on two fronts simultaneously.
- Planning how the change will be managed: taking account of the readiness of the organisation and its component parts to change.
- Planning what will change: the design of robust solutions.
As concrete plans begin to form and knowledge of the impending change becomes more wide-spread, attention must be paid to the emotional impact it will have on those affected.
In complex change situations, the entire process is often iterative. As the change unfolds in microcosms of the larger system, all four components must be proven true again for the smaller entity.
Whatever role the HR practitioner is playing, they can use their influencing, communication, planning and diagnostic skills to ensure the architecture of the change is rigorously tested and applied.