This is the final post in a short series looking at aspects of organizational change and development during a recession. The series expands on some of the points in Annie Hayes's feature article on the topic in HRZone.co.uk. This final offering examines HR's role in supporting its managers in their leadership of successful organizational change and development.
This is the final post in a short series looking at aspects of organizational change and development during a recession. The series expands on some of the points in Annie Hayes's feature article on the topic in HRZone.co.uk.
This final offering examines HR's role in supporting its managers in their leadership of successful organizational change and development.
What should HR's contribution be?
I found this a difficult question to answer. The ability of a particular HR (or OD) department to support managers in their change-leadership role will vary immensely. Perhaps most crucially, though, it will depend on how the department as a whole, and individuals within it, are viewed by their peers.
Change leadership is strategic leadership (at whatever level of the organisation it occurs). So HR/OD needs to be seen to be capable of addressing hard, strategic issues and to command the respect of other departments. If HR/OD is associated solely with "the soft side of change", it is unlikely to be able to bring its influence to bear on the 'hard' aspects of the business change agenda.
In reality, of course, it is often the so-called "soft" side of change that many managers find hardest to get to grips with. And perhaps this is why these more challenging aspects of the leadership role are often shied away from or spoken about in disparaging terms - as a sort of defence mechanism.
A revised agenda for HR?
In some instances, HR help to perpetuate this view themselves, by avoiding or ignoring the hidden, messy and informal aspects of organizational life. In such cases, they limit their own attention to the 'safer', less contentious territory that is bounded by the conventional HR agenda.
But, professionally, HR practitioners would see themselves as the ‘people experts’. As such, it would be valuable if they recognized that organizations are socially complex. And that this unavoidable complexity arises solely from the fact that organizations are made up of people in interaction. By adopting this stance, they would be much better placed to advocate effectively for the revised change-leadership agenda that these in-built dynamics of organizations imply.
In many (most?) cases, this would require a broadening of the scope and philosophy of HR. Amongst other shifts in perspective, it would need to embrace the following points:
- The focus of leadership communication needs to move beyond ‘getting management’s message across’ to one of influencing the local sense-making process.
- Organizations are unavoidably political processes, in which in-built and emerging tensions between diverse individuals, organizational units and competing interest groups are both the source of potential conflict and of organizational vitality.
- Power relations are critical in determining what, when and how things happen.
- Effective working of the organization depends on informal, get-the-job-done processes and social relationships as well as - if not more than - those shown on the formal organization chart.
- Organizational culture is not something that can be designed, built and "rolled out" as a formal set of values and behaviours; it is an ongoing process of shared meaning making, which is itself influenced by the patterns of past, sense-making interactions.
- Much of what happens in organizations is paradoxical and cannot be reduced to simple either-or choices (e.g. between continuity and change; team working and individuality; centralization and decentralization; and so on). Conventional, "keep it simple" wisdom would see the removal of these tensions as a key purpose of management. As a result, managers often seem content to ride the organizational equivalent of the ‘Big Dipper’.They shift their strategies and structures back and forth, for example, between centralization and decentralization, control and empowerment, diversification and divestment, growth and downsizing, team working and individuality and so on. This has become so much a taken-for-granted aspect of organizational life that the underlying assumptions on which this constant restructuring and upheaval is based are rarely if ever questioned.
All of these factors, and others, arise because organizations are dynamic networks of people interacting with each other. So it seems to me that an understanding of these dynamics, and how they impact upon business performance, should be at the heart of HR practice.
See also the earlier posts in the series: