Don’t you love it when you collaborate successfully and have that “light bulb” moment when a problem is solved? I know for me it’s a privilege and a joy to hear those stories from the HR and payroll professionals I advise each day, especially when changes are managed in such a way that they result in positive organization-wide impacts. In fact, I’m guessing that when you narrow down what contributes to the success of any powerful change management results you’ve had, you tend to remember first the people who helped you achieve each milestone and the vital step-by-step actions that played the pivotal role for the success. So how can we maximize those relationships so more projects end up like this?
I’ve pulled several common themes from the stories I’ve heard that I think can help here. Each theme may seem overwhelming, but these success stories didn’t happen by accident. In this 3-part series, we’re going to address 3 themes that lead to winning change management strategies: timing your projects right, planning for change management events, and turning your big picture strategy into simple, actionable communication to drive business success.
Let’s start with timing. Here are a few tips to help you ensure your change management strategy keeps its momentum and fits in among your organization's other priorities:
1. Take an inventory and be honest about your own time
First we need to ask what may seem like an obvious question – what do HR and payroll teams spend their time on? Well, human capital management is broken down into three areas according to Gartner – workforce acquisition, workforce management, and workforce optimization. Translated into plain English, that means anything your organization does to recruit, hire, manage, pay, and retain your employees.
Just keeping these areas afloat is a major undertaking when operating any sized business. For example, competing for top talent in the current employee’s market is an epic journey, and that doesn’t even account for administering, paying, retaining, and creating a great employee experience for the existing workforce.
HR and payroll professionals are pushed and pulled in so many directions, we don’t know which way is up. In my previous experience, I remember waking up with a schedule for my day in place and having something completely out of my control immediately disrupt it. The kicker was it was my job to fix the issue. I had limited resources, my day was packed, and to be honest it was exhausting and very lonely. Welcome to the many hurdles HR practitioners must jump in order to become strategic.
So when it comes time to change things, we often tell ourselves “There’s not enough time in my day.” Sometimes even the things outside work we’re supposed to enjoy, like managing a family, caring for pets, doing extracurricular activities, or finding personal time seem impossible to get to.
Is there hope for us to get out from under our daily grind, focus on strategy, and execute meaningful changes? I promise there is. Acknowledging that we have a lot of competing priorities, even though it might be painful, is an important first step because it will help us get to realistic project goals. With this in mind, the next three steps show how you can dedicate the time you and your organization need to rock any change management project you set out to accomplish.
2. Make planning its own project
The former project manager in me constantly compartmentalizes the different tasks I need to accomplish. It may sound like overkill, but identifying all the tasks that need to be accomplished for a project first is what’s most important to your eventual success. This gives you a clearer direction and allows you to start thinking about some of the interdependencies. If you’re in a situation where you don’t know where to start, think about the big picture strategy around what you want to accomplish and the key terms surrounding that specific topic.
You must organize and take on planning as its own priority in your change management life cycle.
Focus on one thing at a time. There are some great resources from HRCI and SHRM to help you identify a place to start. Most importantly, write everything down and use a standard method to track it. This could be done in some form of team organization software, Excel, or really anything your organization is comfortable with. If you don’t take this step, it’s too easy to get lost in all the things. You must organize and take on planning as its own priority in your change management cycle. That way when it comes time to execute the plan you’ll have all the pieces in place.
3. Collaborate and communicate
We use the word collaboration often in the consulting world. You can’t do it alone. Let me repeat, you CAN’T do it alone. One of my mentors once gave me some scary yet simple advice: “If you want it, just ask. The worst they can say is no.” You must ask for and have access to others’ time, knowledge, and experience to help accomplish your change management initiatives.
Find the key players at your organization who will help you share your vision and deliver on it.
If you don’t have a team that can help with this, leverage things like blogs, research, and surveys to quickly build a knowledgebase around how others have done it. After you have a clear idea and do the planning I mentioned earlier, find the key players at your organization who will help you share your vision and deliver on it. Go into this process with the understanding that when you collaborate with others, it’s your job as the subject matter expert in HR to ensure a positive impact on your company’s culture and it’s their job to give you visibility into their specific functions and surface the nuances you may not have thought of through their expertise.
Creating through collaboration in this way ensures that you’re not making changes in a vacuum – with the perspectives these team members bring to the table, you’ll be able to craft something that’s relevant and valuable to as many people in your organization as possible.
4. Map out your change management project's timeline
You might fail at this component sometimes based on the competing goals at your organization, and that’s okay. That said, though, here are some practical insights on how to navigate timing for your change management project.
The first question that informs all the others is a simple one: “Is this a good time?” Making change in an organization is always in addition to your daily job. So how do we identify a good vs. bad time for ourselves and the organization? There are a few ways to do this:
Verify your corporate calendar and major yearly events for your organization
Are there any major events your company has planned for this year? These include marketing events, trade shows, conferences, new product or service launches, and specific events that promote your company. They also include major press releases and outreach to target audiences that influence others to positively view your organization. If your change is ill-timed, it could result in employees writing negative reviews online when you were trying to do something positive.
The trick is to deliver change in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a disruption, even if by necessity it arrives at a busy time. And that hinges on some of the communication and collaboration points we talked about earlier.
Review each team's annual and quarterly calendar to see the impacts of changes
For instance, if you have HR, Payroll, Operations, and IT involved in your project – which you should – some example events you need to plan for are the following:
- HR: Annual workers' compensation audit, open enrollment, performance evaluations, pay equity reviews, seasonal recruiting cycles, ACA filing, board meetings. The main question for HR is which of the many areas they’re involved in the changes you’re planning will most affect. You’ve got to make sure they have enough time to plan for a new process, especially if it affects something like compliance.
- Payroll: Quarterly tax filings, annual payroll/finance audit, payroll processing cycles, year-end activities. Also a more general question to ask here is will your changes impact payroll processing or employees getting paid on time/correctly?
- Operations: This one is tricky. You must look at shift trends, inspections, and when staffing is at its peak. Get managers involved as they can further your insight. The difficulty lies in the communication component as you will have to develop a strategy around those who won’t be there when you roll out the change. I’ll address this more in part 3 of the series.
- IT: This is one of my favorite groups to go to for insights from a planning and communication perspective. These folks are very methodical in tracking what technology and tools you can use to make change happen. IT often has their own schedule under which they are operating with things like SOC audits and continuous safety improvements included on it. Make sure you have access to this schedule as it doesn’t always line up with an annual calendar. Things to be aware of on the IT front are new equipment, equipment exchanges, and potential system outages for software upgrades.
Conclusion: Getting timing right isn't easy, but it's essential to change management strategies
Once you’ve reviewed each team's calendar, including holidays, you'll likely sit down and think “There really isn’t a good time.” You aren’t alone in the mild feeling of desperation. However, do not give up. This task you’ve set forth to accomplish is about commitment to your team, your organization, and yourself. Your goal isn’t to give up, it’s to find the best time to initiate this change amidst the chaos. Keep in mind why you started advocating for change in the first place and the success you'll get to share with your team when you check that final item off the list.
In part two we'll address planning for change management events and provide practical applications to help you move your big initiative forward. In the meantime, if you're looking to get a better handle on who should be involved in your change management strategy and how you can connect with them, make sure you understand the moments that matter to those different stakeholders. This will help you build a plan that's sensitive of time and optimize your goals to meet needs across your organization.