How can HR help people to engage with change?

How can HR help people to engage with change?

When considering the role of HR in organisational change, there appears to have been a shift from the concept of ‘managing change’ to ‘supporting change’.  And understandably so; managing has echoes of control which in the context of this emotive, and dynamic concept, suggests restriction and constraint.  In contrast, support sounds nurturing and ‘together’, whilst still maintaining individual responsibility, and this is exactly what organisations need to generate a forward thinking and agile workforce.

Ask yourself;

‘How easy it is to engage employees in change?’

If you ask that very question to HR practitioners, responses will vary from raised eyebrows through to hysterical laughter. But this is a serious matter as if HR can truly understand their colleagues and therefore support and develop them to engage with change, then surely HR can avoid the heavy price of ‘disengagement’.

So, what is the cost of employee disengagement?  There are both direct and indirect costs that span right across the employee lifecycle including:

  • less productivity
  • declining revenues
  • lack of innovation
  • poor customer service
  • increased absenteeism (£13.6 billion is lost in the UK due to this)
  • higher turnover (23% of UK employees are looking for a new role)
  • leading to higher recruitment costs (1).

So, is it any wonder that failing to support employees deal with change that 70% of change projects fail to meet organisational objectives (2)?

Change can be an often-misunderstood term, therefore raising awareness around what ‘change’ means to them and understanding how confident and open employees are to change is a key step.

By doing this, HR can start to define the types of activities, support and interventions needed to help facilitate successful organisational change. HR needs to reduce resistance and build confidence, and right there lies the key. However, there is no magic wand, no quick win here, supporting change successfully is hard and does not happen overnight.

Whilst there might not be a magic wand there are tools that can help inform and guide.

So, what do we need to know about our people first?

Surely it’s about how ready they are for change?

Probably yes, but to get this level of insight however, is rare and difficult.

Or is it?

Psychologist Dr Jodi O’Dell has been researching change and people’s responses to dealing with change for over 5 years. In measuring and assessing people’s readiness for change O’Dell has developed an assessment tool called ‘Engage’. This simple to use assessment tool provides rich, insightful data on the change readiness of your teams and even across a whole organisation.

Engage firstly measures the confidence of your colleagues. It focuses on the following:

  • Are they confident to engage in change?
  • Do they believe they can do the job required?
  • Do they believe they can influence outcomes?
  • Are they confident in interacting with all stakeholders?
  • How confident are they when the landscape changes?

It then assesses how open they are to change:

  • Are they open in their communication style?
  • Do they build strong relationships?
  • Are they open to (critical) feedback?
  • Receptive to new ideas?
  • Are they agile, and willing to engage in actual change?
  • Are they optimistic (or cynical) about change?

Combined data in these areas ‘takes the pulse’ of people in your organisation and highlights both inhibitors of change which can then be mitigated and accelerators of change which can be harnessed to drive change forward. 

HR and OD specialists can therefore define appropriate interventions to specific groups; repeating this over time monitors the organisational pulse a bit like a Fitbit measures your steps and heartrate.

Like a Fitbit can provide insight in to the distance you walk or help inform the decisions you make on where and when you walk at any point during the day; Engage can help you identify and find answers to the following questions:

  • Who are our change ambassadors?
  • Which departments are more resistant to change, and what can we do about it?
  • How is our culture impacting our ability to engage in sustainable change?
  • Did our management development programme develop more confident, open and performing managers?

We know that supporting organisational change can be fraught with difficulty. By getting closer to the culture of your organisation and those people within it, extracting data and gaining real insight, it is possible to seize those accelerators of change, diminish those inhibitors and drive forward organisational success. This is where HR can truly add value and support organisational change on a whole new level. Technology is not the answer alone but it’s an enabler to help you make informed decisions.

As a valued DPG Community member, we want to provide access to many of these ground breaking tools in a way that provides you with insight and knowledge. Because of this we can offer any DPG Community member a team trial of Engage free of charge.

For more information click the link below and complete your details and a member of the Engage team will be in touch to arrange the trial for up to 10 people. This is a great chance for any HR team to gain valuable insight into how they can support change and people’s readiness for change.  The opportunities are endless!

Click here for your free trial


1 McKinsey, Deloitte, Ken Blanchard, Harvard Business Magazine

2 Employee Engagement Research (Master List of 32 Findings) 

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  • A practical point: Once you find out that people are not open to change, the real challenge is how to get them there. I don't think it's as simple as this for bigger, cultural changes but when I had to shift things with my team in the past, I prepared the way by getting them to suggest some low-level changes and then they were the champions of those self-driven changes. It got people more used to a culture of change. I made sure I never said 'this is the way we do it because this is the way it's always been done'. Surprising how that made ME re-evaluate my mindset towards change as well!
    • Plus straight away by setting the task of asking the team to suggest changes, I was able to see who might be a change ambassador and who might be a negative influence (who took the opportunity to criticise without constructive points). I think I was struggling around the edge of the Engage model without realising there were things like that out there to help me!
      • Great points Nicole, I'm a big believer that role modelling is one of the most important aspect of leading / support change but if people don't understand the reasons for change in the first place and what this means to them, it often is an exercise in futility. Most change programmes fail through lack of engagement and taking people on a journey of why the change has to happen in the first place at each level - industry, organisation, division, team, individual - once people understand the why even if they don't necessarily agree with it they are more receptive to change. 

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