A changing world puts pressure on organisations to change too but poor management of change can have a negative effect.

Change may be driven by new rules and regulations or the need to generate new products and services. Businesses may have to restructure perhaps in response to merger and acquisition. Internally, developments in best practice, as organisations learn from experience, also drive change. Yet fewer than half (40 percent) of change projects meet schedule, budget and quality goals according to an IBM study. It found that the biggest barriers to success were people factors: changing mindsets and attitudes (58 percent), corporate culture (49 percent), lack of senior management support (32 percent).

Start with individuals

The success of any change will be heavily influenced by the perceptions of the people who are most affected by the change. Organisations looking to make a change need to start with individuals. The gap between the need for change and the ability to carry employees through it is why there are so many failures. It is natural that when organisations start to pick people to lead change projects, they turn to people that are open to change but they need to recognise that some people may be resistant.

Corporate stakeholders have a vested interest in the success of organisational change as they want to see a future for their job. However, at project level, stakeholders may be people who have an interest in the success – or failure – of the change. Sometimes people want projects and change to fail because they feel threatened or don’t understand the change or see how it will benefit them. If the organisation hasn’t engaged with them to find out what is important to them and what they are afraid of then it runs the risk of launching change into an environment where there are far more people against it than first thought.

HR can play a key role in assessing the capacity of the organisation for change. The department can make itself the custodian of information about the skills, knowledge and experience within the organisation and help inform decisions as to whether the organisation needs to buy in people to help with change.

Outsourcing change management can be a deceptively easy process and there is a need for HR expertise to identify and address the risks. Commonly, when external experts manage change, employees can be left feeling that change is being imposed from above and they don’t know why it is needed. There have also been spectacular examples of organisations bringing in consultants, who launch a project only for all the staff to say, “But we already do that in a different way”.

Change and grow

Change can be a force for employee growth. Projects can be a good way to develop people’s skills so that they have more to contribute to the organisation in future. However, many of today’s ultra-slimmed down organisations lack the capacity to release staff from their usual roles to play a part in change management.

If someone is to be moved out of their normal role to handle change, HR needs to look at who is going to take over their usual day-to-day activities and how much that might cost in training, overtime and recruitment. Lean organisations, cut to the bone, have no capacity to think about the future and HR is well placed to address that issue.

HR is a key department in enabling change, making sure that people are primed for change and that they have the right training and receive the right communications. It is best placed to evaluate how to work best with individuals and teams to accommodate change – would they work best with a written set of instructions or would it be more effective to give them tools to use to manage change themselves?

Place at the top table

One of the challenges for HR has always been getting a foothold at the top table for strategy discussions. The more that HR understands change and how it is implemented, the more it will become part of strategic discussions and help map the social architecture of the organisation. The rewards for getting change management right are substantial – organisations that are best at change management are ten times more successful than the worst organisations, according to the IBM study.

If HR professionals want to play a more strategic role in the organisational development they need to be ready to share its in-depth insight into the organisation and how people work and how it will react to change. HR is the natural channel for those aspects of change management – whenever the organisation is talking about change it will be talking about HR.

Andy West MSc, Assoc.CIPD, MAPM, MBCS, CMI, is a Senior Training Consultant at ILX Group, the global Best Practice learning company. Andy has developed and delivered both open course material and bespoke courses for clients across the UK and Europe. He has delivered training on Best Practice subjects such as PRINCE2, APM, Project Support and Change Management.