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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Change is not about doing, it is about getting things done
Article Type: Strategic commentary From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 11, Issue 5
Thought leaders share their views on the HR profession and its direction for the future
Stuart WalkleyStuart Walkley is based at Oakridge Training and Consulting.
Let me present two challenges to conventional wisdom – one to the psychological impact of change, the other to the confusion of inputs over outcomes during major change periods.
Looking for new beginnings
Change is not an ending, it is a beginning. So, one of our preoccupations with applying Kübler-Ross’s stages of bereavement to our thinking on our emotional reactions to change is deeply misleading. Rather than focus on our supposed depression at loss we need instead to look forward, albeit with some anxiety, to the uncertainty and challenge of the future.
Our scrutiny needs to be on how we help people look to the future and to take some level of control whilst accepting the unknown. Tone down the soul-searching, the hand-wringing and the hankering for the lost past and recognize that change is an everyday organizational challenge, not a major bereavement nor an exceptional event. Get over it: get on with it.
Focusing on outputs
The second challenge is to the levels of frenetic activity that seem to surround every change initiative. Already-busy leaders, and in this, for the moment at least, I include HR professionals, heap upon themselves even more activity, become martyrs to insatiable demands and rush around “doing things” often to startlingly little effect. Change generates new heights of activity, and new depths of inefficiency. The focus is on “inputs” – on doing things – instead of on outputs – on achieving results.
As a consequence there is a strong sense of disillusionment when having been so virtuously busy the results are not achieved. We bleat that people did not get it, that there was resistance, that despite all our enthusiasm things have gone back to how they were. We forget the axiom that leaders should stop “doing things” in a spirit of self-justification and focus instead on “getting things done.”
Understanding HR’s role
So where does this leave HR leaders in their contribution to the change process? If we are to follow Kotter or Ulrich then they should indeed be center-stage, not back-stage and dawdling in the wings. They are there to get things done in an organized, efficient and measured way and it is precisely their expertise both with process and people that gives them a key leadership role.
As Ulrich (2005) states:
As change agents, HR strategic partners diagnose organization problems, separate symptoms from causes, help set an agenda for the future, and create plans for making things happen. They have disciplined processes for change and implement those processes regularly in the organization, both with individual projects and with an overall road map.
Change should not always be a frenetic exercise – that excitable “white raft” of energy described by Handy – but needs to be a systematic, inclusive, relentless, well-managed and well-led intervention towards clear strategic outcomes.
Finding the required confidence
There is some concern currently that the Ulrich model for HR as a true business partner does not work, despite our professional knowledge of just about every model, process and system ever developed during the last 30 years. Our difficulty lies in the simple fact that we do not always quite believe in ourselves enough nor can we quite believe that we are entitled to wear the leadership mantle.
Ulrich’s approach relies on HR professionals being strong, determined, assertive and capable. He requires HR to see itself as having a leadership role to play, to engage with other leaders on an equal basis and to be challenging as well as ever-helpful. We should indeed take the lead in getting things done and we should be ensuring that we measure outcomes with steely and determined eyes to hold change programs accountable. “Making things happen” needs to become the personal as well as organizational contribution of every HR leader; accountability is critical.
Making change work
Simply stated, change needs to do good to both the organization and to people. Change that is harmful is clearly to be avoided; change that is merely harmless is a costly waste; but change that really creates a future, increases self-worth, benefits customers, enhances organizational reputation and secures financial security is surely our end goal. We can do more than endure change in such circumstances; we can welcome it with open arms and relish the leadership opportunity to really make a difference and to ensure that change really happens.
Hopefully the insights and valuable practical examples provided in this issue of Strategic HR Review will do more than inform and educate or provide you with the cozy reassurance that you knew it all in any case. They should inspire us, literally “breathe life into us,” to take on a leadership role to make things happen. Are you ready?
About the author
Stuart Walkley is a Director of Oakridge Training and Consulting and a Non-executive Director of Avanta Enterprise Ltd. He is a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a fellow of the Institute of Personnel and Development. Stuart Walkley can be contacted at: email@example.com
Ulrich, D. (2005), HR the Value Proposition, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA, p. 212