As we climb out of the recession and are looking at recovery strategies, one thing is clear: the business world both today and in the future will feel radically different from the more stable days of old, and will require full recognition that change will forever be a constant. No longer can we settle for complacency and business as usual philosophies. And certainly for employees, the days of ‘jobs for life’ with just one or two organizations is a thing of the past.
Organizational change will always happen, not just as a result of pure economic and cost pressures, which will always be prevalent, but also through business growth, whether organic or from merger and acquisition. Throwing in other variables such as constantly shifting consumer patterns and the realignment of product and service offers, increased internationalism, advancing technological innovation, locational and business infrastructure demands and evolving skill and people demographics means that change will not only govern business operations but it will lead to an acceleration in the speed or cycle of change itself.
Acceptance of change is an immediate need and if HR is to retain any credibility and have a strategic role, it will be by shaping and establishing a change culture within organizations and putting in place tangible support to deal with it.
Now is the time for HR to embed an understanding of change, the theories and academics behind it. Waiting until the next change happens will be too late; by then the focus for managers, and more specifically for leaders (as there is a difference) – will be dealing with the situation. Leaders won’t want the theory, needing instead to balance their energies in three ways:
- By considering the impact of the change on themselves
- By considering and supporting their teams through the change
- By continuing in a leadership role to help the business operate and prepare for the future
Leaders will need knowledge and techniques to help them emotionally and tactically; they will need to know the immediate business context, know what help is available for them and others, know how to recognize support required by others and know how to provide it and fundamentally know how to action plan and transition through the change process.
Left alone, leaders are likely to flounder and cultural and reputational damage will be done, not only to those directly affected by the change but also amongst those ‘survivors’ left within the restructured organization.
Investment in building a change culture early alongside the development of contingencies for change and workforce flexibility, before the inevitable next change happens, seems to be the strong lesson learned from the recent economic downturn. HR’s presence is no longer about supporting a business as consultative partners ; it’s about being part of business strategy at top level, driving people streams and owning implementation programs.