Corporate change is not HR – but here’s how it can contribute

By Debbie Nicol

Research tells us that Executives have 2 roles in corporate change situations: a.  Executive Decisions that provide the budget, resources and approvals and b. Executive Actions namely to be visible and active, to build a coalition and to communicate at specific times through the change.  I believe that in the Middle East, Executive Decisions are handled relatively well, yet executives are not seen to be part of the change as it moves forward.

Here’s HR’s great opportunity – to work with the executive sponsor and coalition, to guide them through the change process whilst providing tools and action plans, becoming a source that brings value and one to trust.

In today’s business world, change is a leadership competency.  One of the most documented reasons for a leader to lose his job is the inability, or lack of desire to seek and/or recognize changing conditions. Research also shows that the greatest contributor to success with any change is executive sponsorship.

A leader’s executive sponsor duty entails two functions:

Executive Decisions that entail the provision of resourcing, the guidance from vision and strategy and the expectations of timing and outcome dates, and Executive Actions that entail being visible and active throughout the change, communicating the messages relevant to the business and building a coalition to ensure the change will maintain momentum at all times.

During my time observing and leading change projects in the Middle East, I asked myself which of the executive sponsor functionalities are the corporate leaders performing well in?  Be the change a merger, a behavioural-based change, a re-branding, an IT implementation or any other of the myriad of changes, it is clear that executive decisions are tackled regularly and well, yet the follow-up success from executive actions certainly has room to grow.

Executive Decisions

In general, the Middle East corporate leaders excel in this functionality. We build visions and strategic plans, and perform environmental scans.  Often, outside viewpoints are sought to embed further perspective into the plan and to benchmark new and unique ways to resource and equip a change.  Maintaining a bird’s eye view of ‘the what’ contributes to solidifying the direction and priorities.

That’s where I see success with a corporate  ‘executive sponsor’ role often comes to an end in the Middle East, as many leaders demonstrate a desire to then abdicate responsibility and accountability from that point on, claiming that ‘there’s many other things I need to be involved with’.  Unfortunately that viewpoint is through the leader’s lens and not that of the people.

Executive Actions

Communication must take place across the entire organization during change, and it must take place by different people, about different messages applying differing modes and channels.  Overall however, key points must not only be sent but also reinforced and checked for understanding.  No CEO would be prepared to do all of that – clearly! That’s where a Change Manager can come in and guide the CEO of when to come in and with what message – what a great role for HR! Abdicating the communication of the business reasons for change will weaken the foundation of trust in the organization. People want to hear of this from the one who is ultimately accountable as they are not only measuring the message but also the passion and credibility of the one who owns the change.  Let’s face it – if the CEO doesn’t believe it or own it, why should others?

Being active and visible throughout the change process is also required.  The team needs to see the executive sponsor being aware of their challenges and unique victories.  They require updates from a bird’s eye view and appreciate ‘high level’ progress reports.  The HR Change Leader could steer the content, frequency and audience for each ‘visibility intervention’.

Any CEO’s time is in high demand and cannot humanly be present every day at all meetings and in all parts of the business.  This would move his focus from where it should be, and so needs a coalition of senior stakeholders who will carry the flag in his absence.  An HR-based Change Manager can be the ‘go to’ resource, provide selection criteria for a coalition member and source of toolkits to help keep the change alive in the sponsor’s absence.

In summary, to increase HR’s credibility, it’s quite simple – influence those that influence the organization!   Corporate change scenarios provide the perfect situation for this!

Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of ‘business en motion’, moves businesses and leaders ahead through change. Debbie applies the Prosci® Change Management Methodology in her business consultancy and learning organization across the GCC and Asia. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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