HR and Change Management

Organizational change happens all of the time. You could be going through a change initiative right now that involves:

  • Moving employees to work-from-home status
  • Rapid expansion due to changing market conditions
  • Introducing new systems or tech
  • Updating workflow procedures
  • Entering a new market
  • Exploring a merger
  • Reduction of your workforce
  • Budget cutbacks

Whether change happens on a large or small scale, the people aspect of it often lands on HR’s shoulders.

HR’s Leading Role During Change

When change happens, many managers hunker down and focus on how change will affect their departments and workers. Meanwhile, senior leaders will focus on big-picture outcomes, without spending too much time considering how change is affecting workers on a day-to-day basis.

That’s where HR comes in, and takes the lead on a number of key functions, such as:

  • Communicating steps associated with changes
  • Partnering with outside change management specialists
  • Tracking success across workgroups and departments
  • Being a point person when managers and employees need support

Below, we’ll unpack key aspects related to HR’s role during change, and offer three tips that can help your change management process go as smoothly as possible.


In HR, whether you initiate, manage, or lead organizational change, you can help guide employees through the process. Doing so can be a boost to their employee experience. Read our report, “The Employee Experience,” for more insight into how you can impact employees every day.

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Change Management from an HR Perspective

It’s fair to say that change isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. There are plenty of very successful managers, leaders, and owners who would rather avoid change altogether. So, why do organizations go through change? Sometimes, it’s to stay competitive, or take advantage of new opportunities. Other times, organizations change reactively, in response to market shifts, or new demographics.

No matter why an organization goes through change, many leaders know that in order to get employees excited and accepting, they need help. That’s one of the reasons behind the success of third-party change management specialists.

Simply put, change management skills are not a common trait in many organizations, even at management and leadership levels. This may be why many change initiatives fail. And when change fails, the consequences can send ripples across an employee population that will cycle back and affect your ability to retain workers.

Therefore, many leaders turn to HR to take the lead during times of change, so everyone can move forward in a strategic direction.

Within departments and workgroups, most managers are able to lead their people toward the first level of commitment when change starts.

Most managers can answer early questions, such as:

  • What’s going to change?
  • Why is this happening?
  • How will it affect our department?

However, once these initial inquiries are satisfied, HR often plays a critical role to help move things forward in a consistent way.

  • At the start, HR can help support managers by leading a communication effort to break down and highlight key points of the change.  
  • In so doing, the message can be flexible enough so managers can tailor it to their specific department when necessary.

From there, in order to be a change champion throughout the process, HR has to continue to build excitement, gather buy-in, lend insight, and provide support if and when things get confusing. Here are three tips to help you along:

1. Balance urgency with calm

Perhaps organizational leaders want to drive change forward quickly because of market factors. Maybe there’s been a sudden demographic shift that is already affecting sales. In this scenario, your entire organization may be caught up in a whirlwind.

Even when change seems immediate, it’s almost impossible to operate exclusively from an urgent position without burning people out, or creating an unhealthy level of anxiety among workers. To balance urgency with calm, HR can:

  • Create a communication strategy that explains what’s happening, and how it’s related to market shifts.
  • Let people know what types of resources will be available during the change initiative. These could include third-party specialists, free training, group chats, meetups, or other learning opportunities.
  • Give managers tools to help them anticipate and answer questions that their employees might have. Doing so can help employees see managers as resources during the process.  

2. Highlight small wins, and the long-term vision

Change takes time, and there are bound to be dips in the process when people at different levels feel frustrated. There will also be small wins. When you highlight victories, you can build a path that leads to change that truly endures. To do so:

  • Make sure that any benchmarks you create are specific and attainable within target dates. Doing so will help you maintain your desired balance between urgency and calm.
  • At the same time, make sure small wins are visible, and give people, workgroups, and departments a chance to acknowledge them. People shouldn’t feel shy for doing a good job.
  • When wins happen, be sure to show how they point back to the larger vision. Perhaps a member of sales has finally broken into a new market, or a product manager has formalized a new vendor relationship. When such victories happen, highlight the steps it took to open these doors, and point out the next set of doors that are waiting for someone to open them.

3. Build your change cheer team  

Driving a change initiative can feel isolating, especially when you’re wearing multiple hats. That’s true even when you have the support of a third-party change management team. Plus, when you consider your normal workload, you might put yourself at risk of burning out.

That’s why it’s essential to build a team of change advocates who can help highlight the wins, and keep others excited about the bigger vision. Ideally, your group of change advocates will be made up of employees from different departments, and at different levels. Working together, they can:

  • Take the lead when it comes to communicating updates, wins, and even glitches in the process to others in their respective departments.
  • Highlight ways that changes are already improving things like workflow, morale, communications, collaboration, or other work-related items between employees and workgroups.
  • Keep the initiative’s positive energy going, and let other employees know they’re available to help if necessary.

Keep in mind that even with a clear vision for your change, the right tools, and the proper outside support, powering through a change initiative can still be difficult. However, with strong leadership coming from HR, you can help minimize struggles, communicate the wins, and maintain the type of enthusiasm that can overcome obstacles.


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