October 15, 2015

HR takes on the role of change agent

HR is increasingly instrumental in bringing about transformational change in organisations. It is doing a good job of supporting business leaders, senior and middle management and the workforce as a whole to progress through change management programmes successfully. So says a new report called ‘Landing transformational change: closing the gap between theory and practice’, conducted by the CIPD and the University of Bath.

The CIPD has conducted several pieces of research into HR and change management in the past 10-15 years. This latest report found that HR is now providing much more sophisticated, meaningful support to CEOs and business leaders to help them effect change than ever before. Previous reports have always highlighted a discrepancy between HR theory and HR effective practice in this field.

Change management is a hugely important concern for businesses – the CIPD’s 2015 annual Learning & Development survey showed that driving culture change is a top priority of leadership development activity in organisations. Yet it so often doesn’t work. Consider the widely quoted statistic that 70% of change activities fail.

Ruth Stuart, lead consultant of strategic projects at the CIPD, says it is so important that organisations are ready and able to change. “In a volatile world of work, change has become one of the few constants. As organisations evolve and adapt in response to this, we’re seeing a new generation of business leaders emerge that are much better equipped with the knowledge and capability to land transformational change. But what’s also evident from this report is the increasing presence of HR in change management programmes, supporting CEOs and business leaders in putting that change into action. It’s great to see so many have understood the concurrent opportunities available to them in times of transformational change, and adapted accordingly to make themselves indispensable to the process.”

According to this latest report, HR practitioners have become expert facilitators. Their knowledge and expertise in the design of change techniques has grown immensely and they are sharing that knowledge and skills with senior managers, middle managers and the workforce. HR has developed both its design and implementation capabilities, both of which are key to transformational change.

A key reason why change management programmes are more successful, according to the report, is because HR and senior managers have a better understanding of what it takes to achieve deep and sustainable change. Instead of dictating centralized, universal approaches to implementing change from the top, organisations are enabling managers more flexibility and autonomy in how to implement change. It is when HR facilitates action in this way that it is more effective.

In the report, the CIPD focuses on transformation themes around design, techniques and management. It features four change management cases studies of organisations that have used these transformation themes to great effect. Those organisations are the BBC Worldwide, HMRC, News UK and Zurich UK life. According to the CIPD, HR professionals in those four organisations displayed enhanced knowledge around employee engagement and the design of change.

The report is the second report in a series on change management. The first report, called ‘Landing transformational change’, was published in 2014.