Resources: Blog Post

February 3, 2016

Transformational change: 6 lessons from an HR VP

Ship on Sea.jpgWe all know change is hard and with McKinsey reporting that only one in three business transformations are successful, the odds of winning the change game are aggressively stacked against you. Employees who are resistant to change and leaders who are unwilling, or unable, to change their behaviours are the two most significant hurdles to successful transformation programs. Companies that are able to overcome these barriers are the ones that win.

As a human resources leader, my task is to guide people through these types of changes – many of which have a significant personal impact, as we identify new and better ways of working. As I have discovered, it’s important people understand why you need to change and that you’re setting them up for success.

A journey often has challenges, which makes it an apt metaphor for organizational change.

Here are six lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Set the co-ordinates and know where you’re heading

All the effort in the world is not enough without purpose and direction. At RSA, having clarity around what we want to be by 2020 has helped us mobilize a significant amount of change in a short period of time. We’ve been transparent with our people about the implications of these changes even when we didn’t have all the answers. I know that treating people as adults seems obvious, but it can make leaders who aren’t prepared to deal with the consequences feel very uncomfortable.

2. Give everyone an oar and make sure they are all rowing in the same direction

Ensuring everyone is equipped with the tools and working towards the same goal is critical to delivering success. At RSA, we’ve worked hard to engage everyone as much as possible through a new suite of communication tools to offer a variety of channels to suit a diverse workforce.

3. Make stops on route to refuel and to check that everyone is still on board

It’s easy to get swept away by the change and not take the time to stop and reflect. Many of us may even thrive being in the epicentre of the confusion and the disruption, and are blind to the impact the change might be having on some people. I’ve learnt the value of stopping to reflect on the progress we’re making by using a combination of pulse surveys and anecdotal feedback. Stopping to celebrate a specific delivery is also an important part of the approach to managing change.

For the next part of the voyage, as the waters become choppier, a number of things will need to be done differently.

4. Find the wind in your sails to build some momentum

As you progress in your transformation, the value of all your hard work will become apparent as you start to build important momentum. Not only will this be gratifying and frankly reassuring for others, but it will also facilitate greater success across the business as new and better ways of doing things get shared between different departments.

5. Ditch the oars and fit an outboard motor

Speed for the sake of speed can have all sorts of negative consequences, but when it comes to transformation it’s essential. Decision-making can be one of those areas that slows you down. Admit it, we’ve all been in those meetings where there are too many people involved with a badly constructed problem to solve. A key building block to having an agile culture is pace and particularly quick decision-making.

6. Be responsive to changing conditions and change course accordingly

You won’t always get it right the first time, so quickly learning from your mistakes and changing direction is also critical. There will be no time to languish in the past and to assign blame. You need to quickly learn a lesson and change direction so you are back on course.

At RSA Insurance, successfully managing change has been a big part of what has kept us around for more than 300 years. During this time, we have been there for our customers in the moments that matter most – a car accident, a flood or a fire. In 2014, we challenged ourselves to determine what we need to do to be a best-in-class insurer. Like our competitors, we knew our customers’ needs were changing and we’ve worked hard to ensure our vessel is seaworthy for the voyage ahead.

I’m not a sailor – in fact I can hardly swim – but when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of change, committing to learning new and better ways throughout the process is what will keep you on course.

About the Author

Photo of Mark EdgarMark Edgar joined RSA in January 2011 in the role of Vice President, Human Resources with overall responsibility for HR across all companies within RSA Canada. Previously Mark was based in the UK as Head of Human Resources within Centrica Plc; a major energy company operating in the UK under the British Gas brand. Mark has also worked for BSkyB, a TV, broadband and phone company, in an HR role responsible for their operational business units and customer facing teams. Mark holds a BSc (Hons) in Management Sciences from the University of Warwick and is a member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Contact Mark at
Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkEdgarHR
Connect with Mark on LinkedIn

Filed under: Uncategorized
LinkedIn Facebook Google+ Twitter