How to effectively manage change management

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Three CHROs told the HR Indaba how they effectively managed new business processes and messages.

Change is an inevitable part of life and of business, but what role does HR play in helping to facilitate major changes and how can businesses ensure that change management is a smooth process? While change often comes from the top down, ironically it is often leaders who are most resistant to change, said Juba Mashaba, CHRO at Cell C. “It’s important to make sure that leadership owns the change, buys into the change and helps drive it. The onus cannot rest solely on HR.”

Juba recently oversaw a radical turnaround strategy at Cell C in 2021 that involved mass retrenchments, and saw its staff complement reduced from 2,600 to 1,340. In addition, the company moved to a new building where it now occupies only two floors.

“People were resistant in the beginning, but now there is more collaboration because the team is smaller, and people are also getting to know one another better,” said Juba. “There have been people who have been part of the company for years, but they didn’t interact because they sat in different buildings.”

Juba says it is critical that HR is included in the decision-making at the onset, in order to give input and drive change management. “HR usually waits for exco and the board to drive the message, but we need to be a part of the formulation of strategy and how it will be executed. If we are not, then you need to understand why we are not being invited. I always say, you need to consider yourself to be a business executive first and HR executive second. Your role is to understand the business and how it translates to a people strategy,” he said.

Ensuring that HR has a collaborative relationship with everyone across the business makes them better placed to make decisions, said Juba. “You gain credibility with line managers. People like people coming to talk to them and it also helps information to flow seamlessly.”

Communication is key, said Nomaswazi Ngwane, human capital executive: mass and foundation cluster at Old Mutual. “HR needs to understand the business case and articulate the why with whatever tools it has at its disposal.”

But how do you manage change management in mergers and acquisitions? “Lexis Nexis has a history of acquisitions which resulted in us has having a lot of culture subsets, instead of one overall company culture,” explained Gcobisa Ntshona, HR director at Lexis Nexis. “One of my tasks has been to help entrench one cultural DNA across the company. As HR we had to co-create it, working with line managers and executives, then link the cultural journey to the business strategy and business imperative.”

The immediate change to a work-from-home strategy during Covid-19 also meant that the new strategy had to adapt because now everything was online, she said. “Not everything has to be set in stone. We learnt that people are amenable to change, but it is about your ability to influence people and bring them on the journey.”

There also needs to be clarity around culture and what is acceptable and unacceptable, said Gcobisa. “There needs to be a clear understanding of how we deal with people who do not fit the values and cultural elements. The company organisation needs to create clarity on how we do things around here. A lack of clarity creates confusion and breeds new problems. Recognition is an important element of driving culture.”

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