Change Management Strategy: How We Turned HR Into Change Agents

By Emerson Human Resources Director, Shiva Krishnan

Hands in a circle

We live in disruptive times. New tools, new markets, new policies, new trends, new clients, new employees… Every successful organization grapples with a wide array of changes, big and small.

HR professionals like me are responsible for the employee experience. We continually design and implement people processes to support our employees through a landscape of constant change. But good policies and processes are not enough. We need to start thinking of ourselves as change agents.

Let me tell you a story close to my heart. It’s about the launch of a leadership development program to improve the team-building behaviors of a company’s leaders, world-wide. The program was a smashing success (unlike many past similar projects). Why? Because HR made some significant behavior changes of its own.

  1. From understanding business needs to forecasting them.

    Having ears to the ground, HR could see early on that the business model was shifting from individual contribution to team performance. Soon, leaders would have to work with multiple global cross-functional project teams and get them to collaborate quickly to drive business outcomes. Because we anticipated this need, the program was not merely a reaction to a problem; it was a proactive solution.

    How we did it: We claimed a “seat at the table” and participated in business decisions. We held regular meetings with employees and managers and asked the right questions. We also conducted frequent pulse surveys to gauge the mood of the employee base and respond.

  2. From tracking metrics to owning Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

    The HR team committed to employee engagement (a company KPI) instead of focusing on tactical metrics like total training hours or training feedback scores.

    How we did it: We kept organizational goals front and center during every conversation and work session. We brainstormed with our clients to identify the right HR success metrics achieve employee engagement and to drive the desired employee behaviors. For example, training didn’t end in the classroom but was followed by simulations and mentoring to ensure that the learning stuck and leaders managed their teams optimally.

  3. From understanding diversity to fostering inclusion.

    Even though corporate headquarters was in the U.S., the move to team performance was global. We knew many typical elements of training and communication didn’t resonate globally, so we paid special attention to that.

    How we did it: We crunched the data to identify the diversity numbers. We then used the quantitative results to make the program culturally inclusive. We knew that, for example, employees in other countries might be alienated if we continued to use U.S. baseball metaphors. So we asked our geo stakeholder to share their stories and metaphors, then applied the lens of local culture to all experiences.

  4. From following HR trends to focusing and executing the most relevant trends.

    The HR team had a good sense of multi-generational workplace and digital revolution but we decided to thoroughly examine how these trends impacted the company and how best to manage them.

    How we did it: We read the research and reached out to networks and business stakeholders to get their input. We investigated trends and analyzed impacts. These findings guided all relevant HR actions. We made sure the communications, training and tools we rolled out resonated with the target audiences. For example, we used the latest technology platform to engage digitally savvy millennials who were primed to be future leaders.

As we became more involved with company strategy and our stakeholders, we better understood our pivotal role in all organizational change. HR is responsible for promoting employee behavior change. Sometimes it’s important to start with ourselves.

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