How HR leaders can manage their executive through change

by John Hilton21 Nov 2016
Change will always be difficult, according to Christopher Paterson, managing director of Alchemy Career Management.

“However, by learning from what effective HR leaders do, we can manage our executive teams with confidence and achieve stronger people as well as commercial outcomes,” he added.

Paterson has highlighted four elements that differentiate effective HR leaders when managing their executive through change.

Know your role
Effective HR leaders understand that when it comes to the people side of change, they are the authority.  

They own the people side of change in an uncompromising way and take responsibility for the decisions that sit within this remit. This often involves defining this remit with the executive upfront so decision making authority is clear and unambiguous.

As a guide, anything that influences the change formula [engagement, retention or productivity] is in the remit of the HR leader.

Further, effective HR leaders also advise on all issues relating to people and call out poor decisions or those lacking emotional intelligence. While people factors can be grey and subjective, there are three values that are consistent. As long as people are treated with professionalism, respect and dignity, it’s very difficult to make fundamental mistakes.

There is not always a happy outcome
As HR professionals we are wired to facilitate positive outcomes. Whether it’s recruiting the best people, developing high potentials or solving workplace issues, we want to affect a positive outcome.

Effective change leaders understand that most change is inherently difficult however, particularly a restructure, merger or downsize. No matter how well this is managed, it still going to be challenging for all and a negative experience for some.

Acknowledging this upfront allows the HR leader and the executive to recalibrate their expectations and deploy their resources to facilitate the smoothest and most effective change possible.

Building your team
Managing the people side of change is a complex enterprise and there are a unique set of circumstances each time. You cannot be expected to be an expert in all aspects of human behaviour; however, it takes a confident professional to ask for help.

Effective HR leaders have a team of advisers that they call on in their network. Some are engaged formally, most informally. The HR leader provides in depth knowledge of the personalities, the culture and the history of what has worked and what has failed. They are then the conduit of expertise to the executive team.

Typical members of this adviser panel include an employment lawyer, an executive coach, a business psychologist, a communications expert, a career transition partner and increasingly, a wellness advisor.

The neurology of wellness
All change adds a level of stress to the human brain and body. However, advances in our understanding of brain function at work and its impact on wellness has added a powerful and practical weapon to the HR arsenal.

We know that for successful change to be achieved, the executive team need to operate at their best; however, they are also the group most at risk. Using the available empirical research as our guide, we know that executive teams who make good decisions regarding their wellness have lower stress levels, greater mental alertness, more energy, higher self-esteem, better memory, greater focus and concentration, higher overall levels of happiness and they manage high workloads more effectively.

The business case is clear. If we are going to support our executive team through change, we need to make sure that their cognitive, emotional and behavioural wellness is supported. As a starting point, you can use the 6 cylinders of wellness® as a resource alchemycm.com.au/wellness for you and your team.

A recent global study showed that organisations who focus on staff wellness experience 2.6 times more productivity, 79 times higher engagement and four times higher retention.

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