Four tips for successful HR change management

September 24, 2020

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has been the greatest accelerator of change in the workplace. There have been many challenges in the last few months for HR professionals and many organisations are facing complex issues over the next few months, whether its organisational design, business transformation projects or workforce planning. Managing change isn’t easy. Ruud Janssen, one of our Consultants asked Suzanne Drost, who is a change management and HR transformation specialist, for her advice on how to successfully manage change and HR transformation projects. Suzanne Drost shares her own experience and key learnings from managing organisational transformation and effectiveness programmes.  

Suzanne Drost has managed international HR teams through challenging change projects and has a wealth of experience from working internationally across a wide variety of organisations and industries, including Schweppes International, Kraft Heinz and most recently Fresenius Medical Care.

I believe you can use multiple change/transformation frameworks or methodologies if you understand the basics of delivery. However, after more than over a decade of international change management experience in many different companies and industries, I have learned engaged and committed people are the key to your transformation/change success. How can you successfully make this happen?

The initial assignment is often “symptom treatment”. Management maneuvers on top of the iceberg, most of what is really going on is below the waterline. So in order to become successful it starts with checking if the starting point is the right one.

Listening to employees

Therefore, my initial stage consists of mainly listening and asking tons of questions. First of all the obvious “tip of the iceberg matters” like strategy, vision, structure, processes and KPI’s but more importantly “below the surface matters” like beliefs, assumptions, trust, perceptions, values, stories etc.

Immediately act on the “low hanging fruit” you might see; being external helps pushing stuck matters forward more easily.

I am curious by nature and love to connect with people so talking and experiencing the company and its people is always fun and inspirational. You make them part of the journey.

Defining or redefining the interim assignment

After this phase, you can further define or even redefine the assignment. To give an example a big corporate hired me to assess their employees as they indicated too many non-performers were blocking the way to success. After finalising the initial phase, I realised the company did not have a clear or even communicated strategy, unclear end-to-end processes, outdated tools and non-impactful top down leaders. Just replacing non-performers would never have solved their challenges.

Communicate the vision, future and plan

Only after (re)alignment with management you can develop a compelling yet pragmatic change plan with a vision, clear planning, targets and deliverables. Build a multi-disciplinary team with preferably as much internal people as possible. Only involve further externals where the expertise is not sufficient and where people are not trainable in the short term. This helps to embed the (continuous) improvement thinking and working going forward.

Start to communicate the vision, future and plan in every way you can on all levels. It is like being an evangelist. People need to know about it and connect to it in order to allow them to want to be a part of the journey and wanting to act. Also, move fast on potential resistance to change. I once battled for over a year with a top manager who was afraid the outcome would negatively affect his image. It was a hard lesson for me as it delayed the project for months.

Agility and resilience are key

As change or transformation projects are never a straight line from A to B support, continuous listening and swift acting remain crucial. Not just the change consultant, but also the management and (informal) leaders; human nature is risk and change averse so you need the right sweet mix of a great vision, inclusive leadership, solid (implementation) plan, ongoing support, persistence and humor (for the bad days).

The agenda is always to make change sustainable and the project a big success. Change management is a specialty, train all those involved and try to make them better than yourself.

If you would like to discuss any upcoming change or HR transformation related projects, please contact Ruud Janssen.