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Why Change Management Should be a Priority Next Year

A lot of the world's companies are gearing up for big change initiatives next year; heads of HR are well placed to play a pivotal role

“Action breeds confidence and courage. Go out and get busy,” says Dale Carnegie in his famous self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, written in 1936 and still read avidly today.

The need to get busy hasn’t been a problem for employees of big companies in recent years. In the past three, for example, the typical firm has taken on five big company-wide change projects. These are intentionally planned changes – not a sharp response to a change in markets, customers, or competitors – that affect significant parts of the company and are done to cut costs or bring in more revenue (e.g., M&A, a change to the corporate culture and all that that entails, a new leadership team, or organizational restructuring).

For nearly three-quarters of the firms that have gone through it, the amount of change has been decidedly more than they’ve ever dealt with in such a short time.

Change Is Never Easy

Just because they’re increasingly common doesn’t mean these large scale changes have got any easier for employees – be they a senior manager or a junior customer service rep. Almost three quarters of firms (70%) say these changes are more complex than they’ve ever been, and many of today’s managers don’t have the right experience to guide them: 60% say they’re unfamiliar with the types of changes they’re undergoing.

And, at the same time, customers want companies to respond faster to their requests which, in turn, means that colleagues demand faster response times from each other (a line manager requiring HR to fill a new sales position, for example).

So, given all these demands, it’s no surprise that two-thirds of organization restructuring initiatives that CEB reviewed ended in failure and the consequent losses in revenue, productivity, and competitiveness.

From CHRO to ‘Chief Change Officer’

But, if two-thirds of changes fail, what makes the other third succeed? Discussions with managers that have been heavily involved in successful change management highlight three things in particular.

  • The sponsor or “owner” of the change project isn’t just engaged with the project and has a desire to make a success of it, they also have the necessary organizational knowledge and change management strategies to make it succeed.
  • All roles and responsibilities about the change are clearly laid out, and all communications to employees are equally clear.
  • The processes to manage groups of employees (e.g., which teams they are asked to work in or efforts to engage and retain the most important ones) are designed to support the change.

The good news for heads of HR is that all three of these factors are entirely in their hands. And this gives them the opportunity to play a big role in one of the most important projects their company will undertake in 2016. In terms of titles, you could explain the role as a shift from chief HR officer to “chief change officer,” with a remit to do more than just develop a workforce that implements strategy, but one that shifts with the strategy.

There is no one better suited to this role than the CHRO, and they are also well placed to advise and collaborate other members of the senior team – general managers, corporate officers etc –  and the CEO on decisions about change management models and how to build a workforce that is capable of dealing with all that change.

Given all the change that firms are likely to undergo in the next 18 months or so, if managers only focus on improving the effectiveness of individual change initiatives, they will never make a success of them. CEB data show that, to double the probability of making a success of a change management project, managers should first focus on preparing the company to manage any type of change.

This doesn’t require investing tons of resources in change management, but instead developing the workforce’s capacity to cope with change and work within the new structure that’s being created. For firms that get this right, the rewards can be handsome: change initiatives move from having a one-in-three chance of succeeding to a two-in-three chance with a “change capable” workforce.

Armed with the best research and idea, playing a big part in change management next year is a great opportunity for heads of HR to win friends and influence people, and demonstrate real senior leadership skills.


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