A new report from the CIPD and the University of Bath highlights that, just as CEOs and business leaders have demonstrated a greater understanding of what is necessary to implement deep and sustainable change in recent years, senior HR professionals have equally enhanced their knowledge and expertise in the design of change techniques. They have also managed to deploy this knowledge more adeptly with senior managers, middle managers and the wider workforce, thus becoming an integral part of the team responsible for designing and implementing all techniques during periods of transformational change.

The report, Landing transformational change: Closing the gap between theory and practice, from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, features four change management case studies from BBC Worldwide, HMRC, News UK and Zurich UK Life. All accounts showed HR professionals showcasing greater knowledge around employee engagement and the design of change than has been seen in previous CIPD studies (2005, 2010). They also revealed that the HR function was most successful when it facilitated action, enabling managers to inject their own customisation to suit the needs of their divisions, rather than dictating centralised, universal approaches to implementing change.At BBC Worldwide, for example, HR was described as ‘horizontal, running throughout’ and ‘part of the senior team’. Similarly, Zurich UK Life talked of HR as a facilitator of change across the organisation, encouraging middle managers to adapt the implementation of change to fit their role rather than behaving as a monitor for senior management. Expert facilitation like this clearly relies on strong personal relationships built on mutual respect between senior business leaders and HR leaders, and as the report notes, this shows an increasing recognition of HR leaders’ expertise and value, rather than just the applicators of rules and procedures.

Ruth Stuart, Lead Consultant – Strategic Projects at the CIPD, commented: “In a volatile world of work, change has become one of the few constants. As organisations evolve and adapt in response to this, we’re seeing a new generation of business leaders emerge that are much better equipped with the knowledge and capability to land transformational change. But what’s also evident from this report is the increasing presence of HR in change management programmes, supporting CEOs and business leaders in putting that change into action. It’s great to see so many have understood the concurrent opportunities available to them in times of transformational change, and adapted accordingly to make themselves indispensable to the process.”The report also found that HR professionals are using a variety of skills to assist senior leaders and CEOs in times of transformational change. In the design stage for example, HR professionals used their analytical skills to interpret data and read the context through the interpretation of data sets, and pass that knowledge on to senior teams. Similarly, in the implementation stage of change, HR professionals have demonstrated leadership skills in engaging managers through active listening and dialogue. Subsequently, the case studies show evidence of new career paths being carved out for talented HR professionals, as a result of the strategic roles played during times of change.

Stuart continues: “Our research into what the HR profession of the future looks like shows that building up expert knowledge to create value is crucial. Case study evidence of HR professionals using their skills to great use in change management seems a strong validation of the importance of organisational development (OD) as a core HR role and the profession being valued as a critical function by senior business leaders. With increasing demand for tools such as ‘big data’, the future is certain to show greater demand for HR and OD professionals to use these skills in order to influence important business decisions. It’s these skills and capabilities that will keep HR professionals integral in times of significant change.”In order to be successful expert initiators and facilitators of transformational change, HR, OD and L&D professionals need to:

  • Be willing to work with CEOs/business leaders and their executive team as the ‘hidden hand’ of change, highly relevant to its success yet not highly visible
  • Identify and change entrenched systems that support the old culture and ways of doing things
  • Facilitate translation of the new vision into tangible actions, filtering down through the organisation and disseminate through mass communication initiatives events to engage all levels
  • Create change advocates through training to support the communication and translation of change
  • Identify and remove obstacles and provide relevant tools as change progresses

Download the full report


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