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5 Steps To Making Positive Changes in Your HR Department

A woman is sitting at a desk looking at a laptop.

Here's what to do when you want to make big changes in your work group and you need to get everyone on board with your ideas. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.     

The great news is that I may soon be promoted to lead our HR department. The challenge is that I need to change a lot of things that I know are not being done correctly. How do I make those positive changes without creating hardships for the department? I am certain the changes will be good, but the team has been so used to doing things the wrong way.  


Your objective is to build a team with each member—though they have individual responsibilities—that is equally committed to a shared goal. Let's look at some ideas you can adapt to your situation to bring the team together and proceed in a new direction. 

Step 1:

You already know what changes need to be made. Now, identify who will be most directly involved in carrying out your plan of action.

Then do an analysis of each of your direct reports, covering skills, strengths, weaknesses and attitude. Pay attention to who you can count on (the people who come to work to make a difference every day) and those who are just the clock watchers. Don't forget to identify those outside the department who may help—or hinder—the necessary changes you have identified. 

Step 2:

After the formal announcement of your promotion is made, hold a short group meeting (five minutes at most). Say how honored you are to be working with such a dedicated group of professionals, that you know everyone has a busy day scheduled and you'll come around to catch up one-on-one. Then let everyone get on with the day as quickly as possible. Your individual meetings may be more serious than that, but keep the public statements stress-free and low-key.

Then announce that you hold a formal group meeting close to the end of the day. 

Step 3:

Spend private time with each team member, making each feel valued and asking for opinions about what is going well and what needs attention. Get their insights about both their individual areas of responsibility and the department as a whole.

Don't make statements about what needs to be improved or changed. Instead, ask questions that follow up on their statements, for example, "Yes, I understand your point, very interesting. In addition to your observation about needing to boost employee engagement, how do you feel our onboarding process could be improved?"

By introducing your ideas as questions to your team, you should be able to get input and buy-in on the changes you want to implement, and each team member will begin to feel ownership in your plan of action.

Finish these private meetings with a comment about how valuable the meeting has been to you. Keep everything conversational, asking that they keep the discussion confidential and noting that you might call on them as things coalesce into a cohesive plan.

After each meeting, make notes on which teammate could help implement the changes you want to make. 

Step 4:

Your formal group meeting should last no longer than 30 minutes; at the end of that time, say that you know everyone needs to wrap things up and prioritize their plans for tomorrow.

This shows respect, demonstrates consideration for the responsibilities each team member holds and makes these points:

  • Each person has your respect.
  • You believe each person takes his or her work seriously.
  • There's important work to be done, and you are not going to get in the way.
  • Everyone manages his or her time well: executes diligently, then, at the end of the day, reviews and determines priorities for the next day. 

Step 5:

Begin your meeting with a statement about the role HR plays in supporting morale and therefore affecting productivity and company profitability. Thank everyone for their input, saying that it seems "we" are all on the same page, that there is much that is going well, and that it also is clear that there are several areas ripe for improvement.

You may not have time to discuss your entire plan of action, so focus on a top priority or two. Don't ask for general questions, but since your individual meetings have revealed who is on board with a particular priority and who has already voiced intelligent ideas on that topic, call on that person: "Jackie had an interesting comment to make about this. Can I ask you to share it with us?" 

Pull It All Together

Finish the meeting with words to the effect that you hope that "we" can continue to deliver the great services we do and even improve on them. You can then begin implementation, with group meetings to unveil subsequent steps in change-making and smaller meetings with those most involved with a particular aspect of change.

Obviously, there is much more to be said, but an approach like this, adapted to your specific situation, will introduce the need for change, with the benefit of each person feeling included and like a stakeholder in the coming changes. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.