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Is Your HR Organization Ready to Lead Change?

Less than 40% of change efforts achieve their business objectives and often create significant and unnecessary disruption for employees, customers, and other critical stakeholders. This relatively low success rate is sobering because the rate and pace of change is increasing exponentially, and organizations must adapt—and often quickly—to survive in today’s increasingly competitive, complex, volatile, and uncertain business environment.


Photo Credit: HCAMAG


Although there are numerous barriers to successful change, it’s widely accepted that leaders play a critical role in the change process and can have a dramatic impact on the probability of success, and it’s relatively undisputed that effective change leadership drives better business outcomes. Unfortunately, leaders, including HR leaders, who are often expected to serve as experts on the topic within their organizations, often report feeling unprepared or ill equipped to lead change effectively. The most common and significant challenges include managing the complexity associated with implementing change, working through “resistance,” changing mindsets and attitudes, and creating an environment that fosters and reinforces change.


Fortunately, HR leaders can build their capabilities in this area by adopting a relatively straightforward, “question driven” change management framework.


The framework focuses on four key questions that, when answered, provide guidance on how to address the most common challenges that leaders face when implementing change, specifically, managing complexity, changing mindsets and attitudes, and creating an environment that fosters and reinforces change regardless of the size or complexity of the effort. The four questions provide a simple but comprehensive framework, or mental model, that encourages leaders to understand “what is changing and why,” and “who is impacted and how,” with the goal of answering the final question, which is focused on building an effective transition plan. Each of the questions has aligned best practices or deliverables that allow a leader to stay grounded, but can also be used to guide project teams, inform governance discussions, engage key stakeholders, and drive effective implementation.




Photo Credit:Geoffrey Marczyk


For example, question one asks a leader to ensure there is an effective vision and conduct a current/future state analysis. A compelling vision is critical to driving motivation and providing context, while a current/future state assessment provides a strong basis for understanding what exactly will be changing. Building on question one, questions two and three seek to understand the specific impacts to stakeholder groups. The key deliverable for these questions is an integrated stakeholder/impact analysis. Question four asks the leader to identify a best practice transition plan to manage the change and mitigate impacts to key stakeholders based on the inputs from questions one through three. Sample best practices include, but are not limited to, the creation of a communication plan, leader readiness activities, pulse checks, identification of success measures, organization realignment, and employee engagement strategies.


For simple, straightforward changes, answering the four questions can be a purely mental exercise designed to keep a leader focused on the right issues that produces a relatively simple plan. Formal documentation and resourcing tend to be the norm for more significant changes. At the highest level, answering the 4-questions helps drive successful outcomes by ensuring leaders are focused on the right discipline and best practices. The four-question model is supported by specific leadership behaviors and psychological best practices focused on changing mindsets and attitudes and working with resistance, and specific techniques for reinforcing change through organizational development and alignment.


Geoffrey Marczyk, Ph.D., JD is a Visiting Associate Professor in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about him here!

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