#SHRM22: Take Charge of Change: How HR Professionals Can Transition from "Reactive Change Receivers" to "Proactive Change Leaders"

Consider this scenario:  A major new change is coming to your organization!  The executive team approved the change a year ago, a project team has been designing it for several months, and now it's ready to be rolled-out to the organization.  You just got a meeting request to create a communications plan to inform the workforce of the changes.  Just like that - wham - the ball's in your court!

Sound familiar?  So often the Human Resource professionals I work with (at all levels - often including senior management ranks) lament that they are invited to participate on change initiatives late in the game.  Typically, they are asked to play roles such as communications and training – long after the major decisions about how the workforce will be impacted have been made by other functional groups.  HR is left to deal with the "people details" and left out of the strategy discussions.  

Much has been written in the last decade about "strategic HRM."  When it comes to major organizational transformation, however, all too frequently HR does not have a seat at the strategic table.  Given the failure rate of major organizational change (as high as 70% according to various sources) – everything from mergers and acquisitions to new technology implementations to business expansions - it’s clear that most organizations are failing to meet expectations.  Could the lack of HR involvement be a potential root cause? 

So often the focus is on "change management" - the methods and tools of change - as opposed to "change leadership."  Of course, managing change through "people-related" tools such as communication plans and readiness assessments is vital.  Yet, in order to genuinely engage for change organizations today more than ever require the savvy perspective that HR professionals are uniquely in a position to provide.

Knowing the value and perspective that HR can offer, here’s the pivotal question:

How can HR professionals move from reactively being on the receiving end of shifting business objectives, to proactively having a seat at the strategic table?  How can they enable their voices to be heard during crucial conversations and make strategic contributions at the onset of “executive decision points”? 

One key solution is to develop Change Intelligence® (CQ®).  CQ is the awareness of one's own change leader style, and the ability to adapt one's style to be optimally effective across a variety of people and situations.  Change leaders with high CQ are able to partner with others to engage the heart (the people side of change - collaborating and communicating), enlighten the head (the purpose side of change - visioning and strategizing), and equip the hands (the process side of change - planning and implementing) to move in winning new directions. 

How can an HR professional leverage CQ to "influence up" and demonstrate their value?  Here are some simple strategies, that if executed consistently over time, can greatly expand your impact:

Engage the Heart: Not surprising, research into CQ demonstrates that HR professionals as a group score highest on "Heart"-centered change leadership.  They excel at keeping the pulse of the people-side of change, connecting up, down, and across the organization.  How can you use this orientation to both build relationships with the executive team, as well as to ensure upward feedback regarding the needs and concerns of the workforce as they are impacted by changes?

Enlighten the Head: CQ research illustrates that executive leaders at the helm of organizations tend to score highest on "Head"-centered change leadership, focusing on long-term horizons and enterprise opportunities.  How can you showcase your thought leadership by keeping up with external trends that could impact the business, and share them with senior leaders, clearly articulating your business savvy beyond the traditional HR realm? 

Equip the Hands: "Hands"-oriented change leadership, which involves the tactics and tools to execute change, is severely lacking in organizations today, as confirmed by CQ research.  This is one of the critical failure factors in sustaining change - losing focus on what it really takes to make change stick at the ground level.  Given your handle on how change is affecting the workforce, as well as your role in managing communications channels, how can you as an HR professional be that conduit to avoid the "program of the year" and ensure adequate attention and resources are devoted to change initiatives?

Remember that "head"-oriented executives want to deal with other critical business thinkers - become that smart, trusted peer.  Moreover, keep in mind that as the TV show "Undercover Boss" reveals time and again, executives often lack accurate, timely intelligence on how changes are being perceived and enacted deep in the organization.  As an HR professional, by building your Change Intelligence - consistently incorporating these heart, head, and hands behaviors into your influence tactics until they become habits - you can emerge as a highly sought-after strategic change leader. 

Want to learn more? Join me at SHRM-2022 for my pre-conference workshop on “Leading through Change and Crisis: Critical Skills for HR Professionals' Careers and Organizations.”

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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