A career in transformation
Not everyone has the DNA to make a good transformation expert. It’s a role which needs clear strategic vision and the ability to demonstrate leadership and direction while executing a plan to turn that vision into a practical reality. Engaging people within the business is critical and this is where HR will be able to influence the transformational agenda. Never underestimate the transformation task. Over the last five years a high proportion of the change programmes we recruited for have been for organisations that tried to manage the process themselves and failed, often through not engaging the business effectively. Not only does that end up costing more time and money over a longer period, but the effect on the morale of the employees and the organisation as a whole can be considerable.
Tackling aversion to change
You may be good at your job and have risen through the ranks quickly, but dealing with transformation is different. This is not least because people don’t usually like change and, very often, neither do companies. Great academic knowledge is fine – there are plenty of management books about transformation and change – but there’s only so much you can learn by reading. In terms of actually being able to deliver change, it’s practical experience and learning how to fail as much as how to succeed that will make your career.
Which leads us to the (relatively) simple answer – if you want to get ahead in transformation, you need to live through the process. Gaining personal experience of change projects under a good programme director or change manager is invaluable and it will give you the toolkit that you need to do a good job in the future. Statistics show that 80% of people will resist change, 10% will do anything to avoid it and the other 10% will be pro-change.
If change is happening within your organisation, make sure you are one of the 10% to embrace it – it’s your opportunity to get the experience you need. It doesn’t have to be a big project – organisations are changing all the time. A strategic review can lead to a restructuring of a sales team or realignment of a marketing department and these are all opportunities to gain transformation skills.
Getting closely involved might not immediately seem to be in your best interests. After all, many an HR director has restructured themselves out of a business. However, if you can be part of the team that has successfully delivered change, then you will leave on a high with some great experience.
Communication the key to success
When a chief executive or managing director decides on their strategic vision for a business and needs to implement a new business model, it’s the HR team that leads the people agenda. Often, people fear change because they don’t understand the bigger picture – they don’t know why the programme is happening and are not aware of the benefits.
If you can communicate clearly about what the vision is and can persuade employees to buy into it, they will make the transition much more smoothly, reaping massive rewards for the business by achieving the desired ‘end state’ far quicker.
Commercial understanding is crucial too. HR professionals often talk about being a commercial business partner and, to use the example of a restructured sales team, it’s essential to make sure that the new-look team not only works well but utilises its new processes to benefit the business. Process and detail are valuable assets for a change expert, as much of the transformation lifecycle focuses on rigour, governance and process.
For many who have excelled and progressed within HR, these are not necessarily their strongest skills. So, while many of those designing and leading change programmes will have strong skill sets in this area, it’s important to understand how empathetic listening skills can also play a key role in ensuring those 80% of resisters not only buy in, but also become evangelists for the change programme. When it comes to problem solving, the HR lead within a transformation programme brings an ability to keep the focus firmly on the people, to anticipate problems, point out the hiccups and the pitfalls and facilitate solutions in a succinct and capable manner. For many organisations, people are the biggest asset, however they can also be the biggest restrictors to business change.
Small steps, big benefits
There’s no simple shortcut to being a transformation expert. As one leading HR and transformation professional said recently, you can’t go home on a Friday night as an HR director and return on a Monday morning as a transformation guru. What you can do though, is help future-proof your transformation career by seeking opportunities to become involved in small projects now, ready for that big step in the future.