Something’s Got to Change

by John Hunter

Define change

Recently I find myself being asked to define the sort of ‘change’ that HRCubed does.  I often answer with, ‘outcome driven’, or technology agnostic, or even in my more ‘Zen’ moments I explain it’s not HRCubed’s change and we don’t ‘do change’ to any organisation. Our job is to help, enable, facilitate, and support our clients to achieve their change.

Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been getting these questions because, at best, many organisations viewed managing change through the lens of project structures like ITIL, which seemed focussed on change control and process authorisation. Some organisations held on emotionally tightly to the solid dependable view espoused by Lewin* in 1947 that change was a three step process of ‘unfreeze’, ‘change’, and ‘freeze’. This ‘common sense’ approach was easy to understand and appeared logical. We should, however, remember that Lewin was focussed upon the impact of change upon the individual.

Change as a concept has moved on. Academics vie with professional coaches in publishing handbooks and ‘how to’ guides. While strategy houses and global consultancies construct multi-discipline methodological approaches and guidelines. The unintended offspring of all this intellectual effort is complexity.

For the HR leadership community looking at all this variety can feel like picking lunch from a Chinese banquet that crashed into a tapas bar inside a New York Deli.

The price of complexity

Organisations are complex, people are complex, and change, even if relatively small, needs thought, care, and skilful application to reap the intended benefits.

Over the past 2 years we have lived through what happens when people start to feel overwhelmed with complexity. Frustrated by their inability to change things, political movements offering simple answers to complex issues have prospered around the globe. Elections, referenda, and armed conflicts have surprised and shocked societies. This is further compounded with a growing hostility towards ‘experts’. Michael Gove and Donald Trump have both publicly stated that people have ‘had enough’ of experts, before going on to promote a particular political point that did not chime with the widely accepted expert opinion.

A recent survey*(2015) into the decline of trust in society suggested that to be trusted and effective experts don’t just need to have more knowledge than the people they advise, they need to be perceived as ‘honest’ and ‘good hearted’. Julia Shaw* suggests that some of this is due to the language used by experts or ‘expertise’ as she calls it. It separates the expert from the lay person acting as a barrier to understanding.

The ‘complexity’ of modern organisations and the economic, social environment mean that no HR department is immune to the pressures of change or to the impacts of this frustration and hostility within the workforce.

Within the HR community however, Change is just one of many competing areas requiring attention. There is always a pressure to focus on the ‘urgent’ over the ‘important’.

Competence overcomes complexity

My experience has been that demonstrated competence, both individual and collective, acts as one of the single most calming and confidence-building forces within an organisation. Beneath the concerns about expertise and the erosion of trust people still want their neurosurgeon to be a fully trained and qualified expert before opening them up.

We have seen how unpredictable groups of people are when they feel complexity has overwhelmed and disempowered them. ‘There may be trouble ahead,’ for HR and its supporting industry unless collectively we can demonstrate not only our corporate value but our real competence in managing change. We have a responsibility to create environments which are receptive and resilient to rapid change, while enabling people to engage with their changing environment.

It may not be neuroscience, but I believe that HR teams are front and centre in the struggle to thoughtfully, carefully, intelligently and skilfully change organisations in order to meet their strategic goals, while balancing and mitigating the impacts of that change on everyone involved.

So in answer to that original question, helping you demonstrate your competence and do all of this is the ‘Change’ that we at HRCubed do.


* Lewin, K. (1947a).‘Frontiers in group dynamics’. In Cartwright, D. (Ed.), Field Theory in Social Science. London: Social Science Paperbacks.
* Friederike Hendriks, Dorothe Kienhues, and Rainer Bromme (2015) Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)
* Dr Julia Shaw: (2016) The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory