Change management: Interview with Karen Cordle

Author Delband Tamjidi
October 25, 2021

In the current environment, it’s commonplace for change management to be a key discussion point for businesses. Many companies are implementing new strategies; revising structures, processes, and systems. But, sometimes, HR is not seen as a strategic partner in this process. Our colleague Delband Tamjidi, Consultant at Frazer Jones in Germany, spoke to Karen Cordle, Senior HR Business Partner at Dornier, about why it’s imperative HR has a voice at the table when it comes to change management. 

As a Senior HR Business Partner, Karen helps smart and dynamic organisations to grow, develop and keep their employees engaged and productive. As well as being an Executive Coach and Startup HR Consulant, Karen is also a keynote speaker on topics like leadership, talent management and employee engagement. 

1. Do you see change management in HR and, if so, how?

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be…when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.” Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

And to be honest that is exactly what is wrong with HR today. HR is really struggling to see itself as a strategic partner for their business, by and large due to a widespread misconception as to the role of HR in business in general – or lack thereof. Why is that so? In part due to the real administrative nature of the HR function and, to be honest, we simply don’t know who we are – let alone what purpose we serve, or what we want and how we can make a difference in the lives of our people and customers as a function and driver of business success:

Who are we? HR? People & Organisation? People & Culture? People Operations? Or Just People (albeit no machines)?

How can we even begin to define our business agenda if we don’t even know what to call ourselves? And that’s not even considering making an impact on the bottom line or having a clue what that impact is in facts and figures, or what relevant people, HR or whatever-you-want-to-call-it type of data could look like. Statistically speaking, according to a study conducted by Tata Consultancy, roughly only 5% of all data investments are routed to people & organisation, but 70% of said companies state people analytics is top priority. To make matters even more complicated, as one Deloitte study also mentions, only 9% of the companies have a clue what that people & organisation data landscape could look like if they were to route their data investments in the HR or People direction. If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t exist. Data driven? Identity crisis? On the brink of extinction? Somebody must have the answer, we just don’t know yet who – so let’s start with some valid data points of now.

In an article from Forbes Magazine expert panel (23/03/2020) on 13 Challenges Facing Business Development Leaders Today, three of those were directly related to our people business, namely:

“Staying Educated, Talent, Talent & Talent and Employee Dedication”

The Forbes expert panel clearly identified Talent as the No. 1 problem for any business development executive leading through a period of hypergrowth or navigating through any other type of crisis such as Covid or a possible recession. The identification, recruitment, training, and development of talented staff are crucial to long term business success and stability over time because the best strategy in the world fails without the right people to execute it under all circumstances.

Following closely behind is Employee Engagement, especially important when creating and maintaining organisations dedicated to service whereby the team and their dedication to their company’s purpose and mission is the single biggest key success factor in growing and developing new and existing markets. Despite employee engagement being viewed as positive and mission critical throughout most organisations, most of the employees report being disengaged at work. A new report from Achievers states that only 19% of employees feel engaged in their workplace and a whopping 64% of employees surveyed may leave their jobs in 2020, (and / or as soon as possible in 2021).

Achievers’ Chief Workforce Scientist, Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, zeroes in on this very issue as she explains that a substantial portion of today’s workforce already has one foot out the door. And this is much different from 2019’s data. In that report, 65% of employees were planning on staying at their jobs.”

So, what has changed?

The root causes of low engagement can be several factors including lack of recognition by managers, little to no upward or downward developmental feedback, a lack of interest in their staff’s development on a business and personal level, siloed-thinking, poor company communication, unfair and unequal to biased reward systems and not understanding or being aligned with the mission of the company. The overall main contributors that in the end tip the scales in favor of leaving the current employer as listed in the Achievers report are compensation and career advancement with the third biggest reason, according to the latest Achievers report, an overall lack of recognition of their work on the part of management. More than four in five (or 82%) say they wish they received more recognition for their work. When asked to identify the cause of this problem, 77% of employees in the Achievers report state leadership as the main cause, 33% cite that those leaders are only minimally committed, 32% only average in commitment being more reactive than proactive and 12% of leaders are not being committed at all, neither to their teams nor to their company.

This illustrates more than ever – especially in view of the challenges presented by the Covid dilemma – that company leaders must start utilising employee engagement as a strategic business objective because engaged employees lead to long-term employee retention, higher levels of productivity and improved quality of work, thus strengthening and producing better bottom-line results. And that is where HR can and should have a seat at the table to drive these strategic business objectives regarding talent and organisational development.

Bearing the following in mind:

If we then manage to successfully keep and develop people in their current jobs, keeping them educated and on top of all the trends as well as extending their skill set, the next mountain to climb in HR would be knowledge management. Most of our workforces are knowledge workers. In 2019, we hit the one billion mark on knowledge workers according to a Gartner report in December last year. This is a milestone in the movement away from working the land to work creating and processing information. As Gartner put it, “In 2020 we have to ensure that the skills supporting knowledge work are being taught in schools and to existing workers. We must ensure that laws encouraging and protecting knowledge work are as strong as those that have developed for other skilled industries. And we have to ensure that knowledge is recognised and put to good use.” Learning and development must become the cornerstone in any good functioning people business landscape both as employers and as knowledge contributors in our local communities. So, these three drivers of business success are the cornerstones of successful HR management at the top level:

2. What needs to change in Start-Ups, Scale-Ups, and SMEs so that they are successful?

Nine quick wins to step up your game and get off life support and revitalise your People Business: 

  1. Find your purpose
  2. Strive for progress not perfection and set goals
  3. Go digital – as good business decisions require accurate, not perfect data, and the appropriate systems and tools to go along with it
  4. Be data driven  – Map your data accuracy to the impact of the business decisions being made based on that data: growth, retention, development, and performance.

Use “good-enough” data to tell you when and where action is necessary, e.g., if your fluctuation rate of unwanted attrition has risen from 19% to 30% you don’t need the exact figure to know you need to act.

Identify the right questions to clean up your data appropriately, such as: “are we retaining the right people? Where do we find our best talents? What are the next industrial trends? And how do we source for staff skilled in those? How satisfied are our staff with their leadership?”

  1. Develop talent –  Analyse and review your hiring practices based on the hiring process and success rates as well as new hire retention rates
  2. Cultivate a dynamic thriving culture – Communicate regularly and implement an open-door policy – feedback
  3. Build relationships – Become connectors and learn how the business operates to see the bigger picture
  4. Get engaged in the business community of your industry
  5. Focus, focus, focus on translating your business strategy into operational people business and communicating this as such in all your networks internally and externally.

Do good things and talk about them!

3. Do we need to change anything in HR so that it meets business needs?

One crucial factor in this equation is knowing who you are, what your purpose is and what you stand for – not only at the functional level, but also at the individual level. Can we develop our organisations, strengthen our staff, and find our purpose?

To make a long story short – yes. It requires three key elements:

The organisation, leadership and the employees must go hand-in-hand.

The organisation must ensure that it commits resources to this goal and aligns its strategies, policies, and practices to foster growth and development. It should effectively combine the twin goals of happiness and productivity to create an environment where employees can do nothing but succeed. Fostering good leadership as a skill in teams and individuals allows us to truly connect with employees at the human level; providing purpose, commitment and focus in an ongoing open candid dialogue.

Indeed, we as individuals make the choice to be happy every day. This choice is the single largest determining factor in the happiness equation that is the foundation for personal and business success. Dr. Christine Carter, a senior research associate at the University of California at Berkeley, has said that happiness, whether at work or in life, is not just about deriving the feeling of satisfaction. Happiness isn’t the feeling that comes from getting or doing what we want. Rather, happiness is the ability to access an array of positive emotions like optimism and gratitude, and then consciously choosing to implement them in our lives and in this case also in our organisations.

According to Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, science director at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, it all comes down to gratitude really. As she says in Three Things I learned from teaching happiness:

“Feeling grateful fosters a more accurate understanding of happiness, strengthening our social connections and motivating us to engage and give back to others.”

Yet how?

For starters, you can exercise gratitude like you would exercise any other muscle. Specifically, and daily. Gratitude rituals as a part of team meetings are a good place to start. So, when thanking someone: first say specifically what they did that you are grateful for, second acknowledge the effort it took for them to do this and lastly describe how and why exactly in detail it was good for you, the team, the business, or the organisation. This gives both parties the opportunity to anchor these positive outcomes and consolidate learnings for others on how to get there.

Gratitude creates an abundance mindset of prosperity, rather than a scarcity mind-set of lack and loss, thus helping to appreciate and expand on what you have. This mindset is literally contagious in teams moving them towards more cohesion and better outputs as each individual contributor benefit from the healing potential of gratitude. And this is what needs to change in HR at the most fundamental of levels.

4. What would change management look like in companies that put their business strategy at the heart of their people strategy?

You have got to get your hands in the dirt and work the ground.

Yet, pulling and pushing at the young shoots after planting won’t make them grow faster either. There has to be a delicate balance between the hard work required to stimulate growth and the patience needed to allow that to happen in its own time and space frequency. Leadership and change management is thus the matter of your enthusiasm holding you up while your back gets used to the work. You must trust that the future holds the possibility of better things, new growth, sunshine as well as much-needed rain. This is the first essential step to making good things happen and sustainable over time. 

The next step is to surrender to the process of opening yourself up to everyone and everything and forming a deep connection to what is and being fully present. In leadership and change management, this entails giving up some foreknown beliefs such as a winning the war for talents, focusing solely on improving your hiring strategies and operations and neglecting the real potential that lies in first, surrendering to the need of all living things (and organisations are living things too) to grow and prosper.

Where your attention goes, your energy flows and by placing the focus and attention on the growth and development you allow for a deeper sense of belonging and responsibility to and for the process. In their white paper „The Deliberately Developmental Organisation“, published by Way To Grow Inc in March 2014 ,Keghan, Lahey and Miller encourage us all as leaders and people developers to aspire and work towards the following in our organisations and as individuals:

“Deep alignment with people’s motive to grow means fashioning an organisational culture in which support to people’s ongoing development is woven into the daily fabric of working life, visible in the company’s regular operations, day-to-day routines, and conversations. Thus, the approach to work in a DDO is not about doing something familiar a great deal harder, a great deal longer, or a great deal more. It is not about developing employees’ skills better than one’s peers. At the level of culture, it is about integrating deeper forms of personal learning into every aspect of life in the company. (copyright March 2014).“

5.What type of environment is such an organisation going to provide for learning and growth?

It will certainly take you out of your comfort zone, require you to be fully present and engaged, challenge your weak spots or opportunities for growth, expect you to make mistakes and be prepared to fix them, encourage you to collaborate and challenge the status quo. As Maurice from Quantum Monkeys reported from their experience with the DDO implementation in his blogpost on Agile and Learning Principles (April 2017),

“These three practices — working on your weak points, staying out of your comfort zone, and making yet fixing mistakes — are a powerful combination. Brand-new skill sets were acquired by people in a matter of weeks. And with more varied skill sets comes a better perspective.”

What would foster that growth is continual open candid dialogue that aligns personal, developmental, and organisational needs with the overall business strategy and objectives; providing an ongoing exchange between all levels of the organisation. The values and behavioural framework around those provide the canvas for which the individualised learning can take place. Global objectives such as total quality, operational excellence or continuing improvement are the guideposts for successful implementation in change processes.

Thus, just like plants, organisations and people need 7 things to grow: 

If you have any questions about this article and if you need support hiring or finding the right role for you, contact Delband or somebody else from our specialised team of HR consultants