Handling Change - The HR Perspective


Dr. Aparna Raj
Associate Professor
Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management
Bundelkhand University
Jhansi (U.P.)


"A round man cannot be expected to fit into a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape."
(Mark Twain)

An extremely turbulent environment awaits Indian corporate world in the years to come. Several trends on many business frontiers are questioning the validity of the tenets that Indian companies managed by for most of the 20th Century. The environmental changes that will have a significant influence on the business environment are:

* Liberalisation and e-commerce, which will raise competition and dissolve economic boundaries. Or in other words, Virtualisation or globalisation—of markets, products and resources, is enabling companies to produce at the most economical locations with the cheapest resources.

* Rapid advances in all aspects of technology, especially computing.

* An expanding urban and rural middle-class with a greater propensity to consume.

* Technology, which is empowering companies to respond with speed and accuracy. Connectivity and mobility have increased the complications in the marketplace.

* Information/Knowledge work, which is forming more than 70 percent of the content of any worker—necessitating reskilling of the manpower.

* A deregulated trade environment and issues related to the impending WTO regime.

* An increased life expectancy and declining birth rates.

Faced with these challenges, different organisations tend to respond differently. There are those that see these challenges as hurdles and do their best to adapt to the new environment so that they can survive and carry on with their businesses. There is the second category that looks at these as challenges that need to be surmounted so that they can sustain their business and maintain their performance. Then we have the third category, which views these as opportunities. Such organisations ride on the new technologies and the opportunities provided by them to forge ahead of others and build competitive advantage.

How do companies in the third category manage to leverage these changes into strategic advantages? These organisations realize that if they have to do so, they have to bring in radical change in their set-up. Radical change is called for in processes, skills, structures, style, culture and attitudes. Organisations which are able to manage this change effectively, emerge as winners. The secret to managing change is building a learning organisation.

Change, which comes along with every merger and acquisition, tends to take its toll on the employees. 'An international research survey reports that 33 to 50 percent of mergers and acquisitions have had specific HR related problems'i. 'The commercial success of mergers and acquisitions can to a great extent depend on winning over the minds and the hearts of the people at an early stage' ii

Change, to be adapted by all concerned requires adequate planning, sharing of information, generating ideas, understanding the current situation, preparation, evaluation, and reinforcing. None of the above can be done without the full and complete support from the human resources. Before adapting change, the methods to be used in the process have to be decided upon and the time frame in which the results are expected should also be decided. 'Scaring people is not the answer. You must try to appeal to them. The more they understand why you want change, the easier it is to commit to it' iii

Any change to be effective requires some essential aspects to it. These are here termed as the Six C's of Change; they are as follows:


If any of the above given C's is zero, then effective change can not take place. Commitment of the top management is most essential for the change to be initiated. Cognizance i.e. awareness of the change and the process being adopted aids in the successful understanding of the change. Cooperation of the members of the organisation is required to add body to the Change movement. Competence is essential to put into practice what is being preached, Coordination or teamwork is essential if the organisation wants to use the existing synergies, knowledge and understanding and to make sure that they as a whole are moving in the same direction. Communication is a necessary tool to facilitate change. 'Communication and consultation are particularly important in times of changev. The achievement of change is a joint concern of management and employees and should be carried out in a way which pays regards both to the efficiency of the undertaking and to the interests of the employees. Major changes in work agreements should not be made by management without prior discussion with employees or their representatives'. vi

Managing Change

Confronting the challenge of change requires more than simply managing changing functions and processes; it requires a focus on and commitment to the human side of change and its effect on an organization's most valuable resource: its people.

It is natural and common for people to respond to change with emotions of fear and resistance. Resistance to change can manifest in not only the behaviors and reactions of employees, but also in managers themselves. Dealing with change and fear on a personal level, managers need to be ever vigilant and aware of their own modes of resistance and recognize that they themselves might rely on habitual activities and responses in order to keep their balance and act as if nothing has happened. Some managers might exhibit resistance by suppressing dissent and becoming isolated or ineffective. In such cases, the staff may feel fearful and uneasy. Understanding resistance to change by individuals in an organization is an essential element in an effective change process. People generally tend to resist any new way of acting or thinking because it causes them discomfort. An individual is likely to resist change for any of the following reasons:

* Uncertainty
* Concern over personal loss
* Belief that the change is not in their own best interest
* Belief that the change is not in the best interest of the organization.
* Having a poor appreciation of the need to change or considering the need to change to be secondary to other issues
* Having a poor understanding of the proposed solutions or consider the solution to be inappropriate
* Disagreeing how the change should be implemented
* Embarrassment about admitting that what they are doing could be improved
* Lacking trust in a person or the organisation, as they believe it has failed to successfully implement change in the past
* Anticipating a lack of resources

Resistance is a natural, universal, inevitable human response to a change that someone else thinks is a good idea, and resisting change or improvement does not make someone bad or narrow-minded. We've all done it and our response will be one of three things: fight, flight or freeze. What we need to do is to recognize and understand many factors from the person's point of view in order to overcome any resistance.

Figure II : The Change Equation

Source: Beckhard and Harris (1987): Organisation Transitions: Managing Complex Change, Addison Wesley OD Series viii

The above given change equation shows that we need to recognize and understand many factors from the person's point of view in order to overcome any resistance.

Being the Change Agent

The content or subject matter of change management is drawn from psychology, sociology, business administration, economics, industrial engineering, systems engineering and the study of human and organizational behavior. The process of change has been characterized as having three basic stages: unfreezing, changing, and re-freezing. This view draws heavily on Kurt Lewin's adoption of the systems concept of homeostasis or dynamic stability.  Whenever the need for a change is felt it has first of all got to be initiated from the side of the top management. There has to be a realisation for the need for change. There may be a number of external and internal forces acting on the organisation due to which the need for the change is being felt. There has to be development and initiation of change and finally the implementation of the change methods and the achievement of a new equilibrium by the organisation. Only then does the change process achieve its mission. viii

People are the sine qua non of organization. Moreover, they come characterized by all manner of sizes, shapes, colors, intelligence and ability levels, gender, sexual preferences, national origins, first and second languages, religious beliefs, attitudes toward life and work, personalities, and priorities — and these are just a few of the dimensions along which people vary. When we intend to bring about or initiate a change then we have to deal with them all. 

The skills most needed in this area are those that typically fall under the heading of communication or interpersonal skills. To be effective, we must be able to listen and listen actively, to restate, to reflect, to clarify without interrogating, to draw out the speaker, to lead or channel a discussion, to plant ideas, and to develop them. All these and more are needed. We have to learn to see things through the eyes of these other inhabitants of the organizational world. Part of the job of a change agent is to reconcile and resolve the conflict between and among disparate (and sometimes desperate) points of view. Charm is great if you have it. Courtesy is even better. A well-paid compliment can buy gratitude. A sincere "Thank you" can earn respect.

The challenge for the HR professionals would be to build up corporate capacity for initiating, managing and institutionalizing such changes. A 1992 study on corporate change, commissioned by GE, highlighted seven critical factors that constitute the corporate capacity for change. Building and nurturing these would be the key agenda for HR professionals in the emerging environment ix:

* Leading Change: developing and identifying the resources within the company - champions, sponsors, leaders - who can initiate, lead and support change efforts

* Creating a Need: stimulating the need (which exceeds the resistance) for change among those who would be involved and affected by proposed change

* Shaping a Vision : helping the organization and its members develop a vision of he desired outcome of the change

* Mobilizing Commitment: mobilizing the commitment of the key stakeholders - management, unions, powerful informall cliques - for the change outcome, so that they feel enthused about it

* Changing Systems & Structures: aligning the organizational systems and structures so that they support the change efforts

* Monitoring Progress: developing mechanisms which help indicating the progress and direction of change

* Making Change Last: institutionalizing the change in the organization

Skills of the Change Agent

Change agents play an important support role in change implementation, they guide, educate, facilitate and act as cheerleaders. Change agents attempt to steer the organisation in the right direction. Some of the skills desirable in a change agent are as follows:

1. Communication Skills is perhaps the most important tool to counteract this natural resistance and fear of change. There are six key components for communicating change that generally address the questions of why, what, when, to whom, how, and methods, viz. :

  * Knowing why the change taking place, this will alleviate the fear and insecurity regarding change
  * Knowing what to communicate to the people about the change taking place
  * Knowing when to communicate to the employees about the change
  * Knowing to whom the communication is to be made
  * Knowing how the communication is to be delivered
  * Choosing the appropriate methods for communication i.e. Deciding whether to have large meetings, or one to one meetings or use the in house newsletters, circulars or bulletins

2. Interpersonal Relations Skills / Personal Skills: The person should possess interpersonal skills to understand others, This will enable him to coordinate the activities with other function heads in the organisation. He would thus be able to receive cooperation from the people he is dealing with.

3 . Emotional Maturity : He should maintain mental balance even under provocation. A failure or two should not frighten him. He must be able to set a personal example of self discipline and show maturity in decision making.

4. Faclilitation Skills : A service role which assists people to undertake specific actions designed to strengthen their participation; these actions can include the acquiring of particular technical skills, gaining access to available resources or translating their own ideas into feasible projects.

5 . Political Skills : Organizations are first and foremost social systems. Without people there can be no organization. Organizations are hotly and intensely political. Change agents dare not join in this game but they had better understand it. This is one area where they must make their own judgments and keep their own counsel; no one can do it for them.

6. Analytical Skills :  Change agents must learn to take apart and reassemble operations and systems in novel ways, and then determine the financial and political impacts of what they have done. Conversely, they must be able to start with some financial measure or indicator or goal, and make their way quickly to those operations and systems that, if reconfigured a certain way, would have the desired financial impact. Those who master these two techniques have learned a trade that will be in demand for the foreseeable future.

7. Business Skills : Simply put, the Change Agent should understand how a business works. In particular, he should understand how the business in which and on which he is working works. This entails an understanding of money — where it comes from, where it goes, how to get it, and how to keep it. It also calls into play knowledge of markets and marketing, products and product development, customers, sales, selling, buying, hiring, firing, and just about anything else you might think of.

7 D's of a Successful Change Agentx

Margerison lists what he calls the 7Ds of effective consulting which could easily be seen as the 7Ds of a successful Change Agent also, these are :

  Define what is being asked to do carefully, by asking the client(s) what they want to achieve as an output.

  Diagnose what or who is getting in the way by doing some investigations..

  Design in conjunction with the client, something that will be an improvement on the present approach.

  Develop a means of implementing the design so it becomes operational.

  Deliver the new approach so everyone knows what to do, by training people and giving them both the tools and knowledge to change.

  Delegate to the client the involvement and implementation at all levels.

  Debrief through debate and discussion on a regular structured basis what has been learned and what can be done next.


Meeting the challenge of change is not just a concern of supervisors and managers. All employees, when equipped with an understanding of the need for change and the fear and resistance that are a natural part of the change cycle, may utilize these foundations of effective communication to provide under-standing and compassionate support for the human side of change.

The continuous change that organisations are facing today, continuously challenges our senses. It is the single most important element of success today, and needs an open and a proactive approach from the side of the management so as to keep pace with the change. We should remember that 'Organisation's don't change people - people change organisations'


i. (1998) 'Handle with care', Human Capital, August 1998 Vol 2 No. 3

(1998) 'Handle with care', Human Capital, August 1998 Vol 2 No. 3

iii. Bossidy, Lawrence, Allied Signal, USA

Raj Aparna (2000), The Human Side of Change, '8M', Journal of Jagan Institute of Management Studies, New Delhi,  Vol. 5, No.2 April- June 2000

v. Raj Aparna (2000), The Human Side of Change, '8M', Journal of Jagan Institute of Management Studies, New Delhi,  Vol. 5, No.2 April- June 2000

(1972) Department of Empolyment, IR Code of Practice ( HMSO, London,1972 )

vii. Beckhard and Harris (1987): Organisation Transitions: Managing Complex Change, Addison Wesley OD Series

Raj Aparna (2000), The Human Side of Change, '8M', Journal of Jagan Institute of Management Studies, New Delhi,  Vol. 5, No.2 April- June 2000

Shukla Madhukar (http://www.geocities.com/madhukar_shukla)

x. Margerison CJ (1988) Managerial Consulting Skills - a practical guide; Gower

Dr. Aparna Raj
Associate Professor
Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management
Bundelkhand University
Jhansi (U.P.)

Source: E-mail November 24, 2006


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