How to

A change is gonna’ come


Getting the workforce to accept difficult alterations to work is, well, difficult. Here an expert reveals how HR can ensure it goes as smoothly as possible...

Words by Dan Cave | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Dan Cave


Design by Matt Bonnar

In 1964, Sam Cooke, that little-known songwriter (commonly know as the ‘King of Soul') and civil-rights activist, wrote memorable song A Change is Gonna Come. Conceived from Cooke’s personal experiences – mainly from an event in which he and his entourage were turned away from a whites-only motel – this instantly recognisable classic speaks to what Cooke hoped would be the inevitability of change regarding the experience of Black peoples in the United States.

So, here comes the HR segue, right? Whilst Cooke was speaking to a much broader and urgent issue – one, that in a form, has again come to the fore during the last few months via Black Lives Matter protests – HR has spent much of 2020 dealing with the inevitably of change. For many, change and transformation has been a watchword for how the function operated prior to 2020’s work-altering events – of course, COVID-19 has, foremost, changed much, devastated much and caused saddening loss of life and loss of livelihood (issues likely more important than the changing structures of work) – but the pandemic has forced HR to deal with alterations of work that couldn’t have been avoided. The type of inevitable change that Cooke sang about over 50 years ago.

 

Of course, some of the changes that HR will have to deal with won’t be the type of positive change Cooke sang in hope of. Redundancies, cost-cutting and difficult transformations have been part of HR’s remit over the last few months. These difficult decisions have required HR to be strategic, centre-stage and mindful of the wants, needs and value of multiple actors and bodies. But, as Kevin Green, best-selling author, consultant, ex-HRD and ex-CEO of The REC explained, this is something the function should be good at as “HR is always about managing change”.

As he sees it “HR should always be central to any change programme” to lead, consult and educate business colleagues through difficult moments. (His most recent LinkedIn blogpost speaks to this piece about HR-led change management, too). Moments that in recent months might have sparked emotional reactions and difficult conversations. Luckily, Green was able to speak with HR Grapevine to share his top tips on how to manage change and ensure the people it affects are bought in and react as positively as can be – even if the news is bad.

Read on to see his top three tips.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

“[To get buy-in for change] talk to people early and explain the context and the environment; treat people and employees as adults, even if it's bad news. If it's bad news or news that will affect people then the earlier you can engage people the better and explain what that means the better. You’ve got to explain the context and the difficult consequences and give them understanding of why you are doing this stuff.

“If you’re introducing a redundancy programme, a new technology or automating workflow, whatever it may be, then explain to them why they’re doing that. I think that one of the things that people do is overcommunicate the change and don’t really spend enough time on the why. Why a company is having to do this is hugely important; when people understand the big picture then they tend to be more accepting of the change.”

 

2. Iterate and let your people guide you

“Secondly, take some of the principles of agile. Don’t think you know the answers to everything as leaders or managers – involve people. I’m a great believer in doing a pilot, early testing, get your people involved in trying different things, or trying different ways of working. Get your feedback and then iterate. Modify the process based on does it work or not. Again, it’s a different way of engaging your people. Don’t assume you have all the best ideas – get your people involved with this project, involve them with stuff and listen to the feedback. They’ll tell you what’s working and what’s not working and how you get the best from a situation.”

3. Care

“The third thing is try and look after your people. As you’re going through any period of change it is that your managers have the skills and understand how to help manage your people through the process. As well as actually managing the task and activity they should be spending more time in 1-2-1s, more time in team meetings and listening; asking questions and then listening. And act after the response, after the questions deal with concerns and issues."


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