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Adapting to Change as an HR Manager

The modern business world is changing at breakneck speed. New businesses start and fail every day. Large corporations buy each other out, merge, downsize and restructure constantly. Many small business models are based on constant change, such as the iterative process common to lean startups. Constant innovation in technology and economic globalization fuel this change. For companies to survive in today’s business world they must excel at adapting to change. Better yet, they embrace it.

Successful adaptation to change involves effectively managing it through careful planning, training, development, monitoring and evaluation. Any kind of change involves all of the people affected by that change, from top to bottom. Being the people-centric component of organizations, human resources (HR) managers are often best suited to manage this change, leading their workforce through destabilizing, transitory times.

Northwest Missouri State University’s Master of Business Administration in HR Management uses coursework in organizational behavior, training and development to help prepare degree candidates for the challenges they will face during times of organizational change, big and small.

What Kind of Changes do Modern Companies Face?

Change can happen at the macro level with top-down organizational restructuring, company mergers, new ownership, business relocation, downsizing and other events that have company-wide impact. But it is important to realize that any change in the workplace can have a big impact, whether on the whole company, a single department or an individual.

Change in the workplace can involve forming a new project team. It can be the promotion of an individual to a management position. It could even be something in an employee’s personal life that is affecting their job performance.

When Does HR Become Involved in the Change Management Process?

This depends entirely on what kind of change is happening. It also depends on where the change is coming from. If top executives decide to restructure their organization, they would ideally involve an HR manager in that process from start to finish. Change management should involve considering what the goal of the change is and how best to accomplish that goal. What change is needed, and what processes would be most effective in bringing about that change?

An HR manager brings the human perspective to this process, considering employees, what training and development they will need, what incentives will motivate them, and anticipating emotional responses and how to react to them. In an effective change management plan, this HR component is integrated into the entire change process from the beginning.

But of course HR managers are often not involved in the change management process from start to finish. They may be handed a situation where a company is implementing changes without careful planning. People can be resistant to change. Resistant employees are unmotivated employees, or at least not motivated toward productive ends.

In these situations, HR managers must slip into the crisis management role. They need to address and resolve these conflicts at the same time they try to restructure the overall change management so it facilitates a more positive transition for the employees and the company as a whole.

What Does HR’s Role in Effective Change Management Look Like?

Say a research and design department comes up with a brilliant new product design. That product needs to be developed and brought from vision to market launch, including testing, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, etc. HR is responsible for pulling together the team that will execute this process, both employees from existing departments and new hires. And although this project team and the respective department heads manage the nuts and bolts of that process, it often falls to HR to manage the change itself.

To positively engage with change, employees need to be in the know. What are they supposed to accomplish? Why is it important? How will it benefit the company as well as the employees themselves? Communicating all of this to employees is a huge part of an HR professional’s role in managing change. They are in a position to motivate and engage employees, design and implement necessary training, monitor progress and performance, give feedback, and provide additional incentives. HR adapts to change by managing the human component and effectively engaging the employees involved.

Change management is not a quick answer to a simple problem. Adapting to change as an HR manager involves careful planning, consideration, and constant involvement in the process and the people responsible for making the change happen. With a solid understanding of organizational behavior, change and development, HR managers can be effective in managing and facilitating positive change and growth in their companies.

Learn more about Northwest’s online MBA in HR Management.


Forbes: 5 Steps for Leading Through Adaptive Change

Changeboard: The Role of HR in Change

EmployeeConnect: The Role of HR in Managing Change in the Workplace

The Balance: What Is Change Management?

WiseStep: 10 Best Ways to Help Employees Adapt to Change Quickly

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