S. Amir Kohan

Managing Change

Suffice it to say that managing change is the largest driving force behind employee relations. Change is a process that people and organizations undergo as a response; it is a transformation toward flexibility. HR is involved in managing the people issues resulting from change, either planned change or a reactive change, such as something occurring from an external source like an employment-related law regulating behavior in the workplace.

Helping both employees and management in an organized process through the roller-coaster ride of change, as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, is an emotional intelligence (EQ) competency skill for HR professionals and leaders. First, shock and denial about the change are awakened within people. Next is the response of anger. Depression eventually sets in about the “loss” of the status quo resulting from the change. The movement toward bargaining and dialogue occurs related to the change. Finally, the roller-coaster ride ends with reaching a level of acceptance of the change. The key knowledge is in understanding the change and the management of the anticipated reactions.

Donald Kirkpatrick’s How to Manage Change Effectively discusses a model with the seven basic steps in the change management process for HR and organizations to prepare with.

• Determining the need or desire for change
• Preparing the tentative plans for change
• Discussing alternative and probable reactions to the change
• Making a final decision about the change
• Establishing a project plan and associated timetable
• Communicating the change
• Implementing the change and evaluation


Response to Change Employees are people, and people react to change differently. Fear of the unknown can bring on some strong emotional responses. Here are some of the possibilities of neutral or negative reactions:

• “Not me!” This is when somebody else is better suited for the new job assignment, or it’s when there’s denial that they are able to make the changes necessary.
• “What will this do to my job security?” Will my job survive the changes?
• Anger Frustration can build to anger when employees believe they are losing control over their work.
• Gossip Uncertainty and frustration can result in employees gossiping about the change. Sometimes this turns to viciousness and vindictiveness, which are problematic.
• “Who’s in charge here?” Uncertainty about reporting relationships can be frustrating also. One group in the midst of resizing used to say, “If the boss calls, get her name.”
• Panic or Emotional upset about the change can cause a severe lack of confidence that can even cause physical illness.
• “I quit!” This is the ultimate response to change by an employee. Unfortunately, the cost to the employee is greater than the cost to the organization.

Here are some examples of positive reactions:
• “This is a challenge.” Open-minded about the new work arrangement, some employees are confident that they can gain the necessary knowledge to do the work ahead.
• Enthusiasm Eager to accept new assignments, these workers can’t wait to dig in.

• “Maybe I could adjust to this change.” After a period of observation, they agree to give the change a chance.
• Positive vision These are people who see the bigger picture and have confidence in the organization’s leadership.


Conditions That Make Change Possible Ken Blanchard and Scott Blanchard have listed six steps to ensure successful change implementation for any organization.

Beat communication breakdown People don’t want to be “sold” by executives on the advantages of the changes to come. They want to be able to understand what will be happening and why.
Get personal Help employees to answer these questions: What’s in it for me to change? Will I win or lose? Will I look good? How will I find the time to implement this change? Will I have to learn new skills? Can I do it?
Plan your action Leaders need to be able to drive forward with answers to these questions: What do I do first, second, third? How do I manage all the details? What happens if it doesn’t work as planned? Where do I go for help?
How long will this take? Is what we are experiencing typical? How will the organizational structure and systems change?
Sell the change If leaders have done a good job on the previous steps, employees will often sell themselves on the change as a good thing.
Collaborate smartly People begin turning outward to ask who else should be involved with questions such as these: How can we work with others to get them involved in what we are doing? How do we spread the word?
Refine for success Refinement questions are a good sign and show that the people in the organization are focused on continuous improvement. How can we improve on our original idea? How do we make the change even better?


HR’s Role in Change Management SHRM suggests that there are four roles HR professionals must play in change management. How that is done will vary according to the type of change being addressed.29 Here are the four basic roles HR can play under the

Leader With management establish a vision and clear direction and shape culture to minimize obstacles.

Educator Coach managers to implement and drive change on their teams, provide necessary training and tools to prepare employees for change, and build a communication roadmap to resonate with different audiences.
Advisor Create transparency as a liaison between executives and employees.
Demonstrator Design methods to reinforce the change, create a mindset of change by modeling and encourage other executives to do the same.

Put them together, and the acronym is LEAD.

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