Rynes: Manage Change Effectively

By Steve Bates Jun 24, 2012
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Sara Rynes, Ph.D., speaks during the SHRM 2012 Student Conference. Photo by Steven E. Purcell

ATLANTA--HR professionals should be ambassadors for change management, Sara Rynes, Ph.D., the John F. Murray professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, told attendees at the SHRM Student Conference held here June 23, 2012.

Rynes, the luncheon keynoter and the 2011 winner of SHRM’s Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award, said managing change is the key for HR to make a huge impact in organizations. “Once you have mastered the basics of HR,” she said, “your ability to lead organizational change may be the single most important competency you can develop.”

Rynes is well-known among fellow researchers and HR management academicians and has been recognized for her groundbreaking research on employee recruitment.

On Saturday, she urged student conference attendees to think beyond just completing their studies and gaining a foothold in the HR profession. “You’ve all heard about sitting at the strategy table,” she stated. “That’s great.” But there’s a level of HR expertise beyond that, she noted, and it centers on implementation. “The best strategy in the world will not do anything for an organization if you cannot implement it.

“Change is probably the No. 1 issue on the mind of your CEO,” she told attendees. “Your ability to help manage change is the No. 1 competency that is going to determine how others view you as an HR manager.”

Rynes conceded that change is a “pain point” in many organizations, but she added that “people take HR issues more seriously when they are discussed in the context of change.” And in the process, HR professionals gain “personal and career development.”

In studying and teaching about change, Rynes said, she has recognized the “prevalence and devastation” caused by major, disruptive innovations. For example, American automakers were hurt by foreign firms making small cars, and e-mail and social networks have hammered the U.S. Postal Service.

Emotion—particularly positive emotion—can help facilitate change if HR can “present an emotional message that fires people up.” An inspiring vision can help bring about change, but not if it encompasses merely financial goals.

Rynes said HR professionals need to empower employees. Often, removing obstacles to collaboration is a challenge. And she observed that HR staffs must be not only nimble but also “ambidextrous.”

She concluded by exhorting HR professionals to emulate the Boy Scout motto: “If you are involved in change management, you are much more likely to be prepared for anything.”

Held in conjunction with the SHRM 2012 Annual Conference, this year’s student conference drew hundreds of students and faculty from across the United States as well as several other countries for educational sessions, alliance-building opportunities and career development offerings.

The day-and-a-half conference, held at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Atlanta, also featured highly rated motivational speaker Jeff Tobe. A Saturday night networking reception with SHRM members and volunteer leaders offered additional opportunities for students to learn directly from HR professionals and to engage, grow and connect.

Steve Bates is manager of online editorial content for SHRM.

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