Twelve months ago most HR professionals were worried about where they could find good recruits and how they were going to retain their best employees. While the signs of economic turmoil were starting to reveal themselves even then very few of us could have predicted the new world order we find ourselves in today.
Suddenly our priorities have changed. Many of us face increasing cost challenges and the associated impact of job losses and retrenchment. Budgets are under severe pressure and across many organisations everything we do is being scrutinised; benefits, training, hiring processes, in some cases even the very role of HR itself.
These are extraordinary times in which many HR professionals have not found themselves before. So how do we provide leadership and contribute effectively to our organisations? How do we balance the obvious business pressures we face with our roles as Business partner, colleague advocate and change manager?
Regrettably, there is no “silver bullet” approach. Organisations vary, the issues facing them can be complex, the cultures differ and their products or services can be quite unique. Yet despite these variations there are common areas which provide relevant responses in which HR can play a leading role.
In short we are talking about managing change. The enemy of change is complacency but who dares be complacent today? HR professionals must be restless, dissatisfied and prepared not only to work closely with organisational leadership but to provide the leadership in how to manage people during transformation and the communications approaches required to sell the changes needed.
This is not a passive position – change in all its guises needs to be sold in order to gain buy in. We know that people make change happen and that effective communications are essential to creating the buy in and support needed for successful change to happen. Clearly organisations that can reorganise themselves and reposition their business and resources appropriately and quickly in the current environment have the best chance of survival and growth in the future.
HR can play a pivotal role in shaping and moulding the approaches needed focusing on four basic aspects of the change process; Business imperatives, Leadership, Communications, and People processes.
Understanding your business is essential. Appreciating the big picture and its implications for the operation you are supporting are basic requirements if the HR function is to effectively respond and deliver value to the organisations’ Leadership as it sets about managing the issues facing it. Comprehension of the core business issues enables HR to contribute as an advisor; people advocate and change manager, taking a balanced view on both business and people implications.
The “tone from the top” is central to any change initiative. As HR professionals we must ensure that the Leadership team within the organisation in which we have influence is providing competent, credible and authentic messages during the change process. Again passivity in this context can not be a HR trait. We have a fundamental role to play in terms of safeguarding integrity and trustworthiness in our respective organisations. If these fundamentals are compromised the change process will suffer. People will not believe or support it and as outlined earlier we know that “people make change happen”.
While we may not have ultimate responsibility for the communications process we can significantly influence the tone and tools being deployed. Effective communications are essential to successful change management. Of core importance is the ability of the communications process to foster understanding. Again translating the business imperatives into messages that make sense at all levels is fundamental. Timeliness and regular updates build credibility. Building on this follow-through “doing what we say we will do” is a key ingredient to forming trust. In all of this the HR function plays a role in being “Devils Advocate” to ensure honesty, empathising, providing support and most importantly keeping a finger on the pulse of the people in the business.
Finally throughout any change process the various people processes we provide, support and lead need to be safeguarded. Central to these are the processes which build engagement, satisfaction and morale.
Very often during major change initiatives line Managers can become demotivated particularly if they find themselves in situations in which jobs are being lost and their organisational budget reduced. People engagement during these times is even more important and HR has a role to play in working with line Management and employees to advocate ways of continuing to build engagement and morale.
Of course this is not easy as building engagement is heavily influenced by the level of change being experienced. Nevertheless focusing on areas like organisational objectives/clarity of purpose, promoting strong leadership, and building accountability through empowerment are powerful ways of building engagement. Again through advice, coaching, and supporting open and honest feedback HR can significantly influence the organisation positively even in the most difficult of times.
In conclusion HR finds itself in a position to play a central role in shaping organisational responses to an unprecedented global business situation. Our multiple role as change manager, business partner and employee advocate places us in a unique and privileged position to influence our respective businesses. Influencing our leaders, supporting and developing effective communication approaches and continuing to find ways to build engagement with employees are significantly valuable contributions which can help our businesses to survive today and ultimately prosper in the future.
Tony Campion is speaking at the European HR Leaders Summit Click here for more information.