HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Case Study Underscores Why HR Change Management Skills Are Critical

It is easy to lose your focus with all of the demands on Human Resources today.  While your day-to-day duties make demands on your time, don’t neglect your most important HR responsibility: helping your organization plan and manage changes essential to the organization’s growth and future.  You need to develop your change management and organizational diagnosis skills, so you’ll be ready to aid major changes within your organization.

Here is an example to illustrate the point:

This is a true story about Robert, a director of Recruitment and Human Development for a major chemical company.  It all started when the vice president of Human Resources, Robert’s boss, popped into his office and announced he wanted Robert to attend a meeting with the Executive Council of the company.

When Robert walked into the meeting, he noted that the president and all of his immediate reports were in attendance.  The president broke the silence with these words: “Welcome, Robert.  We need your advice on a problem we have that I am told you can help us with. Because you have an MBA majoring in Human Resources, we thought you could help us out with our plan to replace half the people in this room within the next 5 years.”

He went on to say, “As you know, we have very ambitious plans for growth in our 5-year plan, including several acquisitions.  We need to start a search for replacements, both internally and externally.  We want you to put a plan together and get it back to us in about 4 weeks.”  The president looked Robert in the eye and said, “Can you handle it, son?”

Robert simply replied, “I’ll do my very best and will be back to you in 4 weeks.”

Robert had accepted a request to help the company plan its way out of a major dilemma, and immediately took action to first bone up on “succession planning.”  He researched four categories of related topics that he thought might help him.

  • Management Development
  • Strategic Planning
  • Change Management
  • Organizational Diagnosis

He studied all four and found that both Management Development and Strategic Planning did not offer much help.  On the other hand, Change Management and Organizational Diagnosis seemed more factually based and Robert believed they offered a more systematic approach to the problems he was facing.  He needed to clearly understand the challenges and grasp the situation before he could prepare the right solutions.

Based on the categories of Change Management and Organizational Diagnosis Robert created the following action plan that he then implemented:

Step 1:  Identify all of the indicators (symptoms) of the impending problem. Robert provided a Symptom Analyses that included the following information:

  • The average age of the Executive Board was 59 with up to nine members retiring within 5 years.
  • The second tier of managers (50 department heads) had an average age of 54 with 10 members retiring within 5 years.
  • Below department heads, there was no personal information available regarding individuals with potential to move into a managerial position.

Step 2:  Sort the symptoms into a coherent statement that describes the problems, including cause and the resulting effects. Robert provided the following summary of the problem:

  • During the next 5 years the company will be unable to fill the nine retiring officer positions from within the company. As many as five to seven of the retiring officers will need to be replaced from outside of the company. This problem is created by a lack of backups in the second tier of managers due to retirements. Failure to solve this problem will likely make it impossible to meet the company’s growth objectives.

Step 3:  Validate Step 2 findings.  Robert accomplished this by checking the records and discussing it with the Executive Council and other department heads.

Step 4:  Design an intervention that will solve the problem. Robert created the following interventions to address the issues:

  • Identify individuals that have the potential to move up in the organization.
  • Create “Individual Development” plans to prepare high potential individuals to move into positions being vacated by retirements.
  • Improve the company’s college recruiting program designed to bring into the company “high potential” entry-level engineers and technically-trained individuals.
  • Improve their college recruiting program designed to bring into the company “high potential” entry-level engineers and technically-trained individuals.

Step 5:  Implement and audit the intervention to assure it is correcting the problem.  As a result of Robert’s plan, all but one of the top positions were filled from within the company.  Many of the newly-recruited college graduates moved up rapidly to fill vacated management positions.  Because of Robert’s work, he was promoted to fill the Vice President of Human Resource position when his boss retired.

The “Robert” story highlights the importance of developing your change management/organization and diagnostic skills, while also showcasing the trend that those in HR are missing a critical skill.  Change management is rapidly becoming one of the most important responsibilities of HR leaders.

The truth is that most HR leaders are woefully unprepared to guide their organizations through the major modifications facing them. Instead, they are trained to interview, design reward and appraisal systems, negotiate union contracts, handle diversity issues, design communication programs, etc.

The purpose of this writing is to sound a call-to-action that starts a development/training process for HR leaders that will enable them to assist their organizations in managing the extremely rapid changes that will impact them in the very near future.  Don’t be distracted by your daily routine.  Step out and become a change leader.

Glenn H. Varney, PhD, has spent more than 20 years in human resources and 25 years in academia. He is a recognized teacher, practitioner, and consultant and has written extensively about leadership and organizational change. Varney is also co-author of the book “Grasp the Situation: Lessons Learned in Change Leadership” Visit for more information.