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SHRM Foundation Report a Primer for Change Management

A new report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation is a guide for HR professionals on how to effectively manage change at their organizations.

Leading Effective Change: A Primer for the HR Professional is the latest among the more than 20 titles in the Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines series that have covered topics such as wellness, workplace flexibility and the aging workforce.

The goal of the reports is to provide HR managers with practice guidelines based on solid research, according to Beth McFarland, director of the Foundation programs. A subject matter expert writes each report, which is then reviewed by HR professionals and academics for accuracy and relevancy to SHRM members before it is made public.

“As we develop materials to help HR professionals prepare for changes in the workplace,” she told SHRM Online, “we realized that a key skill needed for implementation will be effective change management.”

The report is written by John Austin, who teaches at the Wharton School, Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has worked with numerous Fortune Global 500 companies as an executive development resource.

“Change leaders can clarify and focus complex organizational change,” Austin said in the report.

“A skilled HR team can increase perceptions of fairness, early employee engagement and trust—all of which will improve employees’ responses to change.”

Change management has “moved to the core of the HR profession,” Austin said. He cited a 2007 SHRM survey that found the most common changes in the workplace involved the performance management process, changes to the facilities, organizational culture, human resource information systems and IT systems.

Change management should be part of an organization’s leadership programs if change “is a significant reality within an organization,” according to Austin. He pointed out that change initiatives provide valuable learning opportunities for those being groomed for leadership positions.

“The ability to effectively lead change should also be a factor in recruiting executive talent and promoting employees.”

How HR goes about implementing and managing change impacts employee job satisfaction, stress and turnover, according to the report, which includes three case studies, specific common barriers to change, useful techniques and guidelines.

Austin recommended the following four basic steps for establishing a reputation as an effective change leader:

  • Understand how individuals respond to organizational change.
  • Study change models—some of which are outlined in the report—to develop personal change leadership models.
  • Follow guidelines for change management practice or make a mindful choice to stray from guidelines.
  • Research methods for implementing the guidelines.

“Making a mindful choice” are the key words in the third bullet, Austin told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

“It may be possible that one of the 12 guidelines for practice” that are outlined in the report “does not fit your particular change initiative,” he said. “For example, some change initiatives may not actually need a senior-level change champion,” he pointed out.

“Following the guidelines for practice should be the default option and the leader should only choose to ignore one of them after he or she has actively considered the guideline,” making the choice not to do it “a mindful choice.”

Organizational change is complex and requires constant vigilance to manage, Austin concluded in the report.

“By playing an active role in an organizational change, the HR professional can ensure that all systems are aligned to make the change initiative successful and to keep it connected to the long-term organizational strategy.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.