HRBPTT – What skills do HRBPs need to support an organisation through a period of change?

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest HR Business Partner Think Tank (HRBPTT) held on Wednesday 9th April 2014 hosted by Octopus Publishing and Hachette UK’s Jazmin Yanez (HR Manager) titled ‘Restructures and Realignments: What skills are needed by HR Business Partners to support an organisation through a period of change?’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.


As we move out of the recession and organisations begin to regain financial stability and grow, many businesses are realising that the HR model they operated during the economic downturn isn’t fit for purpose in the recovering market.

With this in mind, restructures and realignments are becoming increasingly prevalent as companies build more effective HR infrastructures. At this Think Tank we will be discussing the tools and skills needed by HR Business Partners to positively support the business and its leaders; before, during and after periods of change.


1)     Stakeholder management

  • Ensuring leaders and senior managers are bought in to the change
  • Resistance to change from senior leaders
  • Setting expectations with senior managers to prevent goalposts being moved during change programmes

2)     Communication, engagement and ‘difficult conversations’

  • Engaging employees through periods of change
  • Rebuilding confidence following change
  • Who owns the communication process?

3)     Cultural change

  • Embedding cultural change – revised values/behaviours
  • Managing resistance and opposition to cultural change
  • Getting new teams to work together, particularly following mergers or acquisitions

4)     Measuring success

  • How do you measure the success of a restructure?
  • Making change more effective
  • Cost control

5)     Long-term effects

  • Managing ‘business as usual’ HR alongside on-going, slow periods of change
  • ‘Making it real’ – ensuring the change has happened at ground level
  • Monitoring long-term success

Stakeholder management

Your business leaders should own the change process, and therefore it is absolutely crucial that they are all passionate and bought into the change. As a HR Business Partner, you should understand the drivers behind the change, and what the key drivers for the leaders are, in order to make it relevant to them. Resistance from leaders often comes when they don’t understand why the change is necessary.

A good way to approach any resistance from leaders is not to push the importance of why you should be doing it, but to indicate what will happen if the change doesn’t occur. They have targets to meet, so by relating it back to their jobs, this will ‘make it real’ and is more likely to gain their buy in. Resistance often comes from fear of the unknown, so give them confidence that the change is for the better.

In order to avoid the goalposts being moved during the change programme, use a similar technique as above to explain what the result will be if the change doesn’t happen sooner, i.e. cost implications – they won’t meet Q2 targets.

Communication, engagement and ‘difficult conversations’

Once your leaders are bought in, it is important to plan how the change will be communicated to employees. When surveyed in the past, employees who were being made redundant said the thing they appreciated the most was knowing sooner rather than later. Particularly in smaller organisations, rumours spread quickly which can have a damaging effect on engagement and productivity.

It is also worth planning who is going to own the communication plan. Who will have the best impact? Which managers or leaders display natural empathy? This should also take into account which employees are going to be affected, and who has the best relationship with them. Is it their line manager, or a HR Business Partner?

Script the message that you want to be rolled out, and coach the managers around how to have those difficult conversations. A good idea is to hold a coaching session to allow the key communicators to bounce ideas off one another, but ensure there is some level of consistency when communicated to employees.

Quite often, the biggest fear from leaders going into change is having difficult conversations and being asked questions like “why do you have a job and I don’t?”. It is important that you offer them coaching and reassurance before these meetings happen to prepare for the best possible outcome.

Cultural change

Once leaders have embraced the change and you have executed this, the most difficult part of a restructure or reorganisation can be getting employees at ‘ground level’ to embrace their new roles / behaviours, etc. A great approach to this is to give each ‘new role’ an induction – effectively treating them as a new starter to recap on the behaviours, values and culture that is expected following the change.

Getting new teams to work together, particularly following a merger or acquisition can also be a challenge (especially if this is international across various time zones). Secondments are a great way to share this new talent amongst the business, get them to understand and appreciate the differences in culture, encourage them to share knowledge around the business, etc. It is also a valuable chance for the employee to build their network.

When there is resistance to cultural change at ground level, you need to understand what their concerns are. Is it their new job role or manager? As a HR Business Partner, it can be good to find an influencer in their group to spread a positive message. Particularly with the younger graduate generation, it might just be the fear of the unknown if they have never been through a change programme before. It is important to communicate why the change is needed from a business point of view, and let them know it is not personal to them!

If an employee is still being resistant to change despite several attempts to communicate with them about the positive aspects, would you really want to keep them in the business?!

Measuring success

Cost seems to be the key factor when measuring the impact of restructures from a business perspective. Measuring the impact on employees is a little harder, but change management surveys (before, during and after) can measure engagement levels and identify improvements. You should survey employees who have been affected, as well as those who weren’t. This can also be obtained during open forums.

Linking back to the importance of communication that was mentioned previously, employees are more engaged if they feel like they have a voice. If their feedback was that the change was being ‘done to them’, they are likely to be less engaged than if they feel like they had some level of input or involvement.

Following change, measuring the attitudes of employees for the first three months can indicate if they are displaying the right behaviours and values. Using a 1-5 scale for each behaviour or value and allocating a score to the employee during performance reviews can be a good indication as to how well they have embraced the change. Skills can develop over time, but a bad attitude is harder to change!

Long-term effects

The long-term effects should have been considered in the planning phase. This is all about communication and reinforcement – why is the change occurring? When do you expect to see results? How will you measure this? If you have a team doing completely different roles, then it is likely you aren’t going to see results for 3-6 months.

In regards to managing business-as-usual HR alongside change, then the best method was to call upon your trusted colleagues! Can you delegate any operational activities to your HR Advisors during change periods to aid their development? Can it wait? Set expectations with managers about your time and resources, and plan in advance about how you will spend your time, and what help or resources you may need.


In response to our question that was posed, the key skills required by a HR Business Partner to successfully lead an organisation through a period of change are:

  • Communication – being open and honest with employees to maintain engagement through change
  • Orchestration – acting as the ‘conductor’, keeping the pace of change up!
  • Influencing – get buy-in from managers, and be clear about why the change is necessary
  • Planning – having clarity from the beginning, in order to successfully communicate to employees. Identifying your key communicators.
  • Understanding – ensuring you understand the reasons behind the change, in order to convey this within the business. Also having true empathy to deal with employees who are facing redundancy, and offering support whilst they are leaving
  • Open-mindset – change is broad, and you can’t always anticipate what it going to happen. See the bigger picture, and be flexible in your approach
  • Consultative – know what your client group do! Act as a Consultant to the business when they are drawing up new org’ charts – what will happen if that role goes?
  • Resilient – be able to challenge the business. Push back on time frames, etc.
  • Evaluation – looking at what you did well, and what could be improved next time. A survey is a great way to get honest feedback from employees and understand engagement levels throughout the change. 

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