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What You Need to Know About Change Management as an HR Professional

Change management is the implementation of selected activities that can touch all areas of the organization (or not) and whose goal is to purposefully change how things run in the company. (Harvard Business Review)

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Transformation ≄ Change

Change is not transformation, even if the two are often equated with each other. Change involves some kind of specific changes, while transformation seeks to change the entire organization and in doing so, establish a business model for the future. Transformation is less foreseeable, more experimental and inherently riskier, and aims less at execution than change does.

Change is Not an End in Itself

Change works towards something, usually one or several of these goals:

  • Global presence: Should we expand?
  • Customer orientation: Should we get closer to the customer?
  • Agility: Should we become faster?
  • Innovation: Should we break more new ground?
  • Sustainability: Should we become more sustainable?
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What You Should Have Management Commit To

Some CEOs want everything. One such CEO was the head of Carrefour in 2009. He wanted ‘more innovation, customer friendliness, agility and expansion’. Things did not work out because there were too many targets, resulting in less market share, fewer investments, etc. If you are advising management as an HR professional, then you need to recommend that priorities be set at the beginning of the change process.

Examples of Change – Positive and Negative

Example 1:
A new CEO (in the retail industry) changes the strategy. He is banking on more beautiful stores, expanding the product range… but forgetting to combine bricks and mortar with an online presence. The result is declining business, wasted resources and demotivated employees, who get nothing for their hard work and commitment. Who is willing to put forth that kind of effort again?

Example 2:
Lenovo and Acer both wanted to expand globally in 2008. While one of them (Lenovo) set up their leadership team globally, the Acer management team remained homogenous. As a result, Lenovo grew rapidly because it thought and acted globally. Acer, in contrast, dropped back and noticed too late that they had charted the wrong course.

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Your Company Culture Prepares You for Change

Address sensitive topics (what happens to my job?), be honest (we do not know whether we can maintain this location) and ignore hierarchies. These are ingredients of successful communication. This is part of a company culture and is extremely important, because change gives rise to uncertainties and stirs up anxieties.

If companies reorganize their performance management process, they are already within a change and a cultural project. Learn in this article what defines a good performance management process.

More Than Half of all Change Projects Fail

The problem? Insufficient analysis. The question is, WHAT should be changed (first)?
A company should set clear goals and link each goal with a change. It also needs to be clear and transparent about where things currently stand, how to reach the goal, and what means are available to get there.

The solution: Agree on what should be addressed first or second, or should not be started right away.
This question is primarily for management, because at the end of the day, they are the ones responsible for the change. As the HR department, you should be included, because your proximity to the employees gives you knowledge that is relevant for management and decision-making.

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Failure Due to Interpersonal Reasons

The problem? Poor execution. The question is, HOW is change supposed to happen?
This is where you as an HR professional come in, right from the initial strategy through to its implementation.

The solution: Maintain an ongoing conversation with both decision-makers and employees.
‘Involve employees’, encourages Eva Stock. That can mean training courses, workshops or face-to-face conversations. Make it clear that nothing should be taken for granted and demand extra resources early on.

Change Means a Fundamental HR Change in Three Areas

In the Organizational Structure

Best case scenario, HR is represented on the management board. Company values are conveyed by HR to a major extent and therefore need to be visibly modelled by HR (and management) right from the highest level.

In Understanding Your Own Role

HR managers are business partners and should be well acquainted with the company’s business model, strategic goals, and challenges. You can read about which competencies this requires in the Change Management Manual

In Efficient IT Support

HR processes are increasingly automated and digitized. Each employee assumes routine HR tasks by managing themselves to a certain degree (keyword: Employee Self-Service).

HR Tasks are Changing

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You are an Advisor, a Mediator,
and an Initiator

As an HR professional today, you can no longer expect to simply follow decisions made from ‘above’. Instead, it’s about trying things out and continually course-correcting.

The role of HR is not to ‘hold employees’ and managers’ hands’, but to set something specific in motion, according to Dagmar Dörner, consultant for company culture. That could mean initiating training for change managers or team workshops (because there is no common understanding of what the company values are).

You Provide the Facts

Use data provided by a software, for example, to support your initiatives. It is not about becoming an analytics professional, but more about getting used to using the numbers. The calculations and the processing are done with technology such as, for example, Personio (in the form of dashboards, for instance).

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Example: Job Description for a Change Manager

According to Barbara Braehmer, HR people basically became change managers a long time ago. But what does a change manager have to be able to do? Below, you can see an ad that actually went online this way. It was posted by a large German company, and the target group was HR managers. We have highlighted the main points which constitute core competencies in yellow.

Job Description for a Change Manager

From the advertisement it follows that as an HR manager, you are on the C-level and are there to help create. You concern yourself with strategic topics rather than insignificant administrative tasks, and make a contribution to the direction the organization is developing in.

9 Tips for Becoming a Change Professional

Stay Calm

All paths lead to you: Management and employees will all need you and seek you out. If they see someone who is relaxed, they will relax as well.

Think Ahead

If departments are merged, think through, for example, who should sit where and who should go to lunch with whom? How will the first day go? Plan niceties such as having cake or grabbing a beer with colleagues at the end of the work day. Small gestures add up to success.

Stakeholder Management

To do that, you will need good alliances. You have to know who is affected and who has to be notified when (e.g. the team leader first, so that there are no mid-workshop surprises).


It is important that you talk to management, for example, before they give a presentation in front of the staff for the first time. They need to know that it should not only be about structures, numbers and facts, but also about a personal story.

Purposeful Speech

Not everyone needs (nor can handle) the same information. Think about who needs what content and adjust your narrative accordingly. And tell management.

Secure Resources

Change does not happen by itself. In view of that, recruit change managers in each of the departments (not only from HR). Offer additional training not only for the managers, but for their assistants as well.

Solicit Opinions

Even if things have (nearly) already been decided, ask your colleagues: What do you need from us to implement that?

Be Supportive

Listen to their concerns and try to solicit common suggestions for solutions.

Set Clear Boundaries

You provide support and are the driving force. But you will not assume management’s role (nor their responsibility). Make that clear.

People are More Important Than Technology

Technology is naturally in play because it changes the way we work. Take Personio as an example. The software lets employees manage themselves for the most part via Employee Self Service (scanning certificates, entering vacations themselves, etc.). HR will now be there for other concerns. Both sides need to learn that.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about solving a problem.

(Herminia Ibarra/Patrick Petitti)

Tip: If you are thinking about implementing new technology soon, don’t do all the hard work comparing available solutions yourself. Let the providers do the work. They are able to create cases or short pitch presentations for you, which you can present to your manager to minimize your personal risk as well as the risk to the organization.

You want to know more about Personio and our HR software? No problem! Contact our sales team via phone +49 (0) 89 1250 1004 or email, or visit our website.