Change Agents or Gate Keepers?

The challenges facing employees in today’s economy and times of uncertainty presents new opportunities for Human Resources. As organizations are looking for new ways to grow the business, increase productivity, reduce costs and navigate the rapidly changing landscape of their industries, human resource departments are challenged to empower and maximize the value of the organization’s human capital.

Human resource departments were first established within organizations to manage the details of maintaining the work force, tracking time, paying for services, and oversight of the benefits programs. Over time they evolved to include resolution of internal conflicts and became accountable for compliance with government and industry regulations. In the last several years training and development of employees has fallen under the responsibilities of HR departments and systems for tracking and managing career paths and retention programs have emerged as a main theme and focus.

The opportunity to integrate the divisions’ commitments within HR organizations and bring a coherent approach to the foreground of the organization can reap great benefits for the employees and the organization’s success. Too often employees view HR as the policing arm of the organization and feel that the processes and systems employed thwart productivity rather than support and empower. This is a result of the either/or mentality which is a natural default in the absence of consciously identifying the different levels of commitment and concern being engaged with.

Identifying the focus of each group and appreciating the orientation of their commitments is a good place to start. The complexities of organizational design cannot be addressed in a short article, but an appreciation that complexities exist and exist as a natural function of the organization rather than a problem to be solved begins the process of integration.

Establishing channels of communication between departments and divisions to identify where they are interdependent and establishing their shared commitment can be encouraged by HR. Human resources needs to become the heart of the business and empower the commitments of the employees. The major opportunity for Human Resources today is to establish an environment where management, development and leadership are distinguished and mutually respected.

In most organizations today, leadership (bringing something new into existence that isn’t just going to happen anyway) runs into the objections of management (stewardship of the organization’s resources) and development (translating new possibilities into reality) is completely missing. Consequently, new ideas hit up against the way things are always done and the best case scenarios result in a committee being formed to talk about it.

It is possible for HR to champion organizational transformation where management becomes the consistently raising floor upon which the organization grows rather than the ceiling upon which the organization keeps hitting its head? Yes, but to do this they must distinguish and demonstrate the working relationship between management, leadership and development for themselves and pick up the mantle of change by example.

When successfully accomplished HR departments cease being the gatekeepers of change and become the leaders of change. Where accomplished their organizations cease being motivated by crisis and become motivated by relationship. Employees are rewarded for results rather than handling emergencies and the mood of their organizations moves from being subversive and resigned to committed and participatory.

Many of my colleagues feel that to cause lasting change within organizations you must work with the executive leadership teams and cause change from the top. My experience has convinced me that although executive leadership is critical for initiating change, lasting changes come through the active participation and collaboration of HR departments empowering the business commitments through employee engagement. Unfortunately to do this in a meaningful way the HR departments must first transform themselves and since they are the experts and go-to people they rely on what they already know and incremental change results. The willingness to grow, learn and lead by example is a choice. Given the difficult times and the rapidly deteriorating structures of our organizations, I hope more HR departments will choose transformation over being gatekeepers and protectors of the status quo.

Sharon Sinclair
President, Synergy and Leverage Consulting

Author's Bio: 

Organizational Transformationalist and author of the forthcoming book, "Change and Thrive: Leadership and the New Organizational Paradigm