How to Make Change Sustainable as an HR Department of One

By Jennifer Currence, SHRM-SCP August 9, 2018
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This article is excerpted from Chapter 6 of Mastering Consultation as an HR Practitioner (SHRM, 2018).

 As an HR professional, once you've introduced a project or change into your company, how do you make it sustainable?

Sustainability is another way of saying that the changes your company has made have been incorporated into its culture. This is easier to do if you have carefully aligned your project with your company's mission, vision and values and communicated it to your customers.

The No. 1 thing that will make your project successful is communication. You must communicate effectively at all stages of the change—before, during and after. As you're ensuring that your new project is sustainable, make sure to communicate the benefits and successes the company and its employees have achieved as a result of the program. Keep communication in mind as you review the various tactics of sustainability, including:

  • Using data and trends to show that the program will provide long-term wins for the company. Include details about profitability and alignment with the company's mission, vision and values where possible.
  • Continuously reporting the benefits and successes from the program.
  • Talking to the front-line employees to learn how the program has helped them, including how it has made them more productive. Communicating in this way with them has the added benefit of gaining their support for the program. 

Measure. Your development stage should have identified metrics you would use to measure the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of the program. Now is your opportunity to deliver those metrics. It's important to look back on any program for a period of time. We need to constantly reflect on and adjust what's working and what's not working; metrics can help us do that. Create your dashboard and share it readily. Engage your stakeholders. They can provide valuable information if you find yourself off course.

Evaluate. Nearly every strategic model you look at will have an evaluation cycle at the end (for example, the ADDIE model ends with evaluate, ADKAR with reinforcement), yet it's still one of the actions that is least followed through. My guess is that because once we've gone through the discovery, defining, development and delivery stages, we're flat-out tired! We want to wipe our hands of the project! But I encourage you to look at it in a different way.

My son just graduated from high school and left for college in another state. Although parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart, he is still my baby. So, I keep an eye on what he's doing. I don't bug him nearly as often as I did when he was at home (much to his delight), but I still keep up with him and ask him how life is going. I want to know. And I want to be able to offer assistance whenever possible. (I keep waiting for him to ask. Surely someday it will happen.) My hope (and my experience) is that if I stay on the periphery and have weekly touchpoints with him, he will know that I'm there as opposed to feeling abandoned. He will know that if he has a question, I'm just a phone call (or more appropriately, a text) away.

The same is true with this project. It is your baby. You don't just complete it and never look at it again. You have attached your name to it, and you want it to succeed in every way. To do that, you have to keep a close eye on what's going on after you send it into the big, real world.

Here are some ways you can keep tabs on your baby:

  • Check in with customers, either in person, with a phone call, with a survey or via numerical purchasing data (depending on your project and your customer). Ask what they like about the new program. Ask how you can make it better. (That's so much more fun than asking "What don't you like?") Record their answers and make changes when possible. And when you do, let them know you made the change and thank them for suggesting it. It's such a small, easy gesture, but it goes such a long way.
  • Hold a feedback meeting. (Bringing in lunch helps set a mood of generosity and giving.) Ask front-line employees about their experiences. Take notes on a flip chart—I've found that when people see their ideas are worthy of being written down, they are more encouraged to share. Enjoy the power of brainstorming!
  • Call a meeting with the senior executives to share the program's benefits and to get their feedback. The sooner you do this, the better you will be able to react to any issues that arise. I always say it is easier to turn around a canoe than it is to turn around the Titanic.
  • Share your learning with the organization. Communication helps increase transparency and encourages more involvement, buy-in and sustainability when people see that their ideas are being taken seriously. 

Infiltrate. Metrics and evaluation are important, but a change initiative doesn't truly succeed unless the fabric and culture of the organization change. Some people say it takes 21 days to make a habit. My guess is that to make a change sustainable within an organization, it's more like 21 months. As you know, culture is very difficult to change. Habits within an organization are very difficult to change. My belief is that you must motivate employees intrinsically to get them to do the hard work of shifting. The "what's in it for me" strategy will work again here. If employees understand why the change is being made and how it adds value to them, they are more likely to buy in to the initiative.

Jennifer Currence is the president of OnCore Management Solutions LLC in Tampa Bay, Fla., where she develops employee talent through customized training and coaching programs, and founder of OnCore Academy, which provides online recertification credits for HR professionals. She is the author of Developing Business Acumen and Applying Critical Evaluation, both published by SHRM.

Please visit the SHRMStore to order a copy of Mastering Consultation as an HR Practitioner by Jennifer Currence.

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