In today’s business environment, where technology is cheap and finding skilled talent is hard, what is the key differentiator between the businesses that fail and those that succeed? I believe it is the ability to manage change.

Innovating, learning quickly and responding rapidly to external elements are the key components of change, but perhaps the most important aspect is how quickly you can change. In business, there are plenty of examples that illustrate this, particularly in the world of technology. BlackBerry was once the dominant mobile phone company in the world, but where is it now? Kodak was a global leader in the camera market, but in the age of Instagram (a business no one had heard of five years ago) it is nowhere to be seen. Samsung and Apple are locked in a race in the current smartphone market that may ultimately come down to which business is able to change most effectively.

Seventy per cent of all change projects fail, according to Harvard research. I believe this is because they may attempt change, but they do not manage it. According to international consulting firm Prosci: “Change management is the application of a structured process and a set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.” By following such a process, you significantly increase your success rate in change initiatives, and achieve wider acceptance and adoption of change among managers and employees.

The concept of sponsoring or championing change processes has become widely accepted. Yet, according to Prosci’s research, the number one obstacle to success among major change projects is ineffective sponsorships. The worst-performing change project teams ranked more than half their change sponsors as having only a low to moderate understanding of their role in managing the people side of the change, and graded them as poor to average in terms of the impact of their sponsorship activities.

It’s here – on the people side of change – that HR is absolutely crucial, yet it isn’t always sufficiently involved. HR professionals need to play a major role when it comes to changing mindsets, as well as processes, whether it is through a reorganisation, new job roles, new functions or M&A. HR should be involved from the outset, and should become a vital part of the way change is communicated and coached, as well as aligning change with learning programmes and troubleshooting problems, such as resistance to change.

I hope organisations will begin to see change not as a painful process, but an inevitable one: something that happens naturally as part of the business cycle rather than a terrifying one-off event. And when change becomes a natural part of business, I hope we will see HR professionals driving it and owning it just as naturally as they do other parts of the business cycle.

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