Finding the Human Factor in Change Management
There’s a lot of chatter among human resources professionals on topics that surround process management. You’ve probably attended a conference or session where speakers and presenters were throwing around words or phrases like change management, agile, scrum master, and design processes, (don’t get me wrong - I love buzzwords as much as the next person), but what’s really missing is the human factor.
As HR grows in its importance for the business, making sure that leaders can handle, process and embrace change is essential. Because if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that change isn’t going away.
At its heart, change management (sometimes abbreviated as CM) is a collective term for all approaches to prepare and support individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. The most common change drivers include: technological evolution, process reviews, crisis and consumer habit changes, pressure from new business entrants, acquisitions, mergers, and organizational restructuring. It includes methods that redirect or redefine the use of resources, business process, budget allocations, or other modes of operation that significantly change a company or organization.
The Human Factor in Human Capital
The good news is that there is actual science behind change management. In Brit Andreatta’s book Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success, she talks about the role our brain plays in accepting and processing change. This is the human element in the change management process. For all the gadgets, the technology, and the tools we have to help us implement change management, if the people aren’t on board with the change, it's never going to stick.
Dr. Britt Andreatta is the CEO of 7th Mind Inc, a TEDx Speaker and a best-selling author who focuses her research, training and consulting on the subject of neuroscience in the workplace. Dr. Andreatta says that neuroscience is the study of the structure or function of the nervous system and brain. New neuropathways are being built in our brains and nervous system every day. Those pathways may be built by reading a new book, traveling by car to a new destination, or attempting a new physical activity. All these experiences create chemical and neuro reactions, and links to new and old experiences. Dr. Andreatta’s work focuses on workplace neuroscience, specifically in the areas of leadership, learning, change, and culture.
When it comes to organizational change, Dr. Andreatta says that it is important for organizations and their leaders to understand where each employee is on the change journey. She says that leaders who are involved in creating and building new organizational strategies have had time to adjust to the new change. However, there are often employees that have not been given the time to consider, learn about, and adjust to those same changes. This is one of the many situations where workplace neuroscience and leadership can help.
Change Management and Adopting New Processes
During times of change, the greatest challenges that HR leadership teams face is the human element. Resistance from employees, difficulties with communication, and workforce turnover are all areas where an excellent HR leader can have an impact as a change agent.
It’s important that HR leaders take the time to build relationships across their organizations as part of their standard function. Most roadblocks can be overcome by communicating with your workforce ahead of time to convey the benefits of upcoming changes. HR can help people understand how those changes will directly benefit them as employees and help shape corporate culture. This can be done by generating excitement for what lies ahead by providing rewards for innovation and compliance, as well as by setting the example of being the first in the company to adapt to change themselves.
Change is difficult for most people. Our brains our wired to want instant results, and the adoption of new programs is rarely instantaneous. It’s a process. As your company’s HR leader, you want to identify the key players throughout your organization - the “cheerleaders” and the “helpers.” These are the people you see stop to help a coworker on another team with an issue. You’ll never hear “not my job” or “not my problem” from these personality types.
In order for organizations to succeed and for their employees to embrace change, organizational leaders must help create new neural pathways for their employees in everything they do. This could include launching a new training program, a unique workplace process, or a new employment video.
A Company’s Guide to Change Management and Organizational Restructuring
During times of restructuring, which often unfortunately includes layoffs, many companies fall short when it comes to change and the human factor. Consider that - beyond compliance - how you handle your impacted employees can directly impact your employer brand, even if you’re only laying off a small number of people. If you’re not offering outplacement, you may be putting your company at risk for negative consequences following the layoff event.
The fallout from layoffs has an impact on more than just the employees you’re letting go. It also affects the individuals that worked with those employees, their opinion of your company, your management, and your culture. To put your company value statements into practice, engage an outplacement vendor. These vendors can provide services like coaching, resume and professional branding help, as well as connecting your displaced employees with potential new opportunities. Not only will your impacted employees get the support they need, but your HR departments, managers, and remaining employees will also benefit.
It’s well-known that there is a shock factor for the laid off employees and their former coworkers. While you, your CEO, and your management team may have known about the restructuring for weeks or months, the employees you’re laying off and their teams are on day one. It’s important to provide employees with time to process, accept and adapt to the change, and offer transparency about the reason for the restructuring. With laid off employees, the reaction is typically “why me?” With the teams left behind, they’re wondering “am I next?”
What HR Leaders Can Do to Help Make Outplacement for Employees a Smoother Transition
What you can do as an HR leader in this position: Check in with managers and supervisors to make sure 1) they are communicating the what and the why, 2) aware of their individual team member’s morale, and 3) find out if anything happened to their role as a result of the layoffs, such as double the workload if they lost staff members in their department. Address any concerns communicated by managers and supervisors as swiftly as possible. To ensure your teams are remaining engaged and satisfied, consider offering resiliency training through your outplacement provider.
The primary difference in what you’re doing here is this: Most companies perform layoffs, then never speak of it again. These companies are left with employees with increased workloads and gradually decreasing morale. Have you ever worked for a company where managers have met individually with employees who were NOT laid off after a layoff? I haven’t.
Transparency isn’t always possible, but if you are able, it’s important to help your transitioning employees and their former coworkers understand the decision behind restructuring. Communicating that you’ve worked hard to make sure the employees that were laid off have a support system (and severance) can also help your employees understand that, should it happen to them in the future, they will also be given support. How you treat outgoing employees says a lot about your employer brand and it speaks volumes to your remaining team members.
Finally, no matter the reason for the change, an HR leader has the opportunity to act as a role model and to aid the entire workforce to provide smoother transitions. Everyone reacts and adjusts to change differently. Take time and provide the support that allows everyone the opportunity to work through the change or proposed change. Heighten communication and transparency during times of change so that team members feel they are a part of what’s happening versus simply issuing a last-minute edict announcing the change.