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The importance of HR in driving change

Achieving a successful change mindset is impossible without the backing of HR, according to executive coach and change leader Cecilia Sevillano.

Sevillano, who has over 10 years change leadership experience, said organisations cannot achieve real and effective change without HR working alongside other business functions such as Operations, Management or Marketing.

“HR is the driving force behind change and plays a key role in driving organisations’ change mindset. A company must be adaptable to change at all times. Change must be an internal capability present within an organization.”

Sevillano said that even organisations with the best entrepreneurial skills, business development teams, marketing departments and the best management teams would struggle to establish a change mindset throughout the business if HR’s role was not that of an essential business partner.

This is because HR is integral in changing the mindset of its organisation’s people; and unless an organisation’s employees fully support a change programme, progress will at best be slow and at worst impossible.

Fear of change

Change carries uncertainty and demands extra effort. It is not a pleasant situation so peopleprefer instead to stick to the way they have always done things. This in turn makes rolling out change, effectively, a difficult task.

In order for organisations to overcome this obstacle, they must first understand that changing mindsets is about people, not about procedures and methods, Sevillano pointed out.

Why the importance of a change-fit mindset?

All organisations are facing change; whether they like it or not. The main drivers for this change are globalisation and technology, she said.

This new status quo calls for greater organisational agility, she added.

“We have to adapt to this new way the market place is operating in and to the new way our customers are operating. So we must be able to react to the market as fast as it is moving.”

Sevillano said the majority of large companies take too long to change strategic direction. This is a challenge that startups, which are increasingly becoming the competition, do not face.

“So established organisations have to change their mindset and develop a more change-fit approach in order to compete with their more agile startup competitors in a globalised and technology-led market.”

However, startups are not their only competition. Instead they are even more at risk from other large organisations that are “change-fit” and can quickly and easily change strategic direction; organisations that continually and proactively seek and implement change even before that change becomes necessary, she said.

What is a change-fit organisation?

Sevillano said a change-fit organisation is an organisation that takes change in its stride and is able to implement it quickly and effortlessly as part of its daily goals and objectives. In turn, employees who work for change-fit organisations are used to working in an environment where change is par for the course, and, instead of mistrusting, rejecting, resenting or opposing change, they embrace it.

Change-fit organisations are not dissimilar to marathon-fit individuals. In order to run a marathon one has to prepare and train. The same principle applies to organisations, she said.

How to implement a change-fit mindset?

According to Sevillano HR has to play a key role in ensuring business results by creating an organisational culture that will embrace change at a faster pace than their competitors. It will achieve this by training key stakeholders within the business in how to lead and manage change programmes.

It is also important for HR to identify what behaviours support a change culture and to ensure they are instilled and adopted internally from the top down. This is why board sponsorship is so important for the success of a change program, she said.

Continuously conducting improvement or experimental projects at all scales, where change is involved, is another way to ensure organisations keep ‘in shape’ for change, as is rewarding and recognising individual employees for their adaptability and adoptability of change, the executive coach said.

“Introducing greater diversity to an organisation, such as people who have been exposed to multicultural environments and therefore bring with them diversity of thought, can accelerate the change process within organisations. These individuals are more change capable because they have been exposed to change in life such as growing up or living in different countries. They have had to adapt and embrace change to go forward.”

Such is the importance of instilling a change mindset that some organisations actually have a Change Academy in place in order to help the organisation and its people through the different changes it is undergoing, added Sevillano.

So how do you go about measuring if your change-fit programme has been effective?
“You can measure it by seeing how quickly that change is implemented and also with regards to your employee engagement. The more engaged your employees are once a change is in the process of being rolled out, or has been rolled out, then you know that change has gone smoothly. Employees will also want to become part of the change and to contribute towards it rather than simply feeling like the change is coming from above.”

At the end of the day, the reason it is important for organisations to ensure they are change-fit is so that they remain competitive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, she added.

“Right now one of the main factors that will give success to a company is how quickly they can adapt to change and this is where I believe HR plays a really active role in the success of the company. HR [is in fact] key in preparing individuals within their organisations to embrace change in a positive way and helps speed up the process of moving forward into a new strategic direction.”

5 Key factors for an effective change-fit programme

  1. Clearly identify the right mindset and behaviours that support the culture of change in your organisation.
  2. Train key HR stakeholders and “change supporters” on change leadership.
  3. Regularly engage in improvement or experimental projects, even those of a minor scale, ensuring effective change training and allowing for tweaking where necessary.
  4. Promote diversity. Encourage a global mindset, building cross-cultural knowledge, understanding, and respectful attitudes towards differences.
  5. Reward people for their contributions and give timely and informal recognition. Convey a safe environment for making errors.