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How Does HR Transformation Affect the Employee Experience?

I recently attended my first-ever HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas. I have spent decades advocating for the employee experience inside healthcare companies, but this was the first time I’d been a part of conversations about transformation and the future of work from the other side. While I was fascinated by many of the conversations in Vegas, I often left presentations and sessions with more questions than answers.

Here’s the core question I’m asking myself after HR Tech: What are the side effects of HR transformation on the employee experience? Your big HR transformation involves a big, scary, experience-upending word: CHANGE. By definition, transformation changes work for everyone — HR people, sure, but every other employee, too. And there are few things more stressful for employees than change, whether it’s the implementation of new software, learning new processes, or a reworked company org chart. 

And while it’s easy for HR leaders (and the vendors that sell to them!) to focus on the end product (a shiny, new way of doing things!), we need to also think about how we get there. What is the messy, emotional process employees will go through to get to the other side of HR transformation? And how can we make sure we’re thinking about the employee experience when we’re planning major HR change? Here are a few ideas.

Prepare for the Human Side of Change

Change is always going to be even more difficult than we think. If change were as simple as reprogramming an algorithm, then we’d do it all the time. But it doesn’t work that way. We’re not robots, we are creatures of habit and behaviors are not created or eliminated with a push of a button.

Let’s use marriage as an example. Obviously, it’s a big life change that goes well beyond the actual wedding day. For most there’s plenty of time to prepare for it, but it still creates anxiety because there are so many variables to consider. On that special day people want everything to be perfect; they worry about the weather, if their families will get along, and if they will remember their vows. However, even if the day is perfect, marriage is not just about the wedding day. It is about preparing to live together as a couple, adjusting daily routines and expectations, and learning how to communicate and work together as partners.

In other words, there’s a human element to change. There are so many external factors that affect our experience. When you begin the process of considering change, don’t just think about the end result. Think about your organizational culture: 

  • What are the current attitudes and beliefs about change? 
  • How will these emotional factors impact the change process?  

It is critical that you assess your teams to discover how people feel about the change, explore their perceived obstacles, and determine your organization’s readiness for change. People need time to process information in digestible chunks, they need to feel safe to disclose how they really feel about the impending change and they deserve to be supported throughout the entire process. By starting culturally where your employees are, you can be deliberate and intentional about building a plan that provides the communication and support they need throughout the process.  

Find a Change Champion

No matter how well-intentioned a change is, it will affect your employees in some capacity. For example, even if a change is small, there may be confusion about its implementation. There may be frustration with a new process. And there may be even more frustration because an employee does not know where to turn to voice their concerns.

To counter these bad feelings, create a liaison between employees and management — a change management champion. This person will carry the banner for change, and voice employees’ concerns. Involving them upfront will make the process easier and more focused for all involved, and once more earn the trust that you need to carry out successful change.

Designating change management champions will also ensure you have a clear and consistent process for communicating your intentions for the change. While it’s up to the executive team to determine the overall message, the next level of leaders will need to communicate that information to their own domains, with the message tailored to their department’s or team’s needs.

Develop Two-Way Communication

One of the most immediate ways to improve employee engagement is to make sure employees feel they have a voice — and that their perspective matters.  

That’s why it’s so important to find ways to create effective two-way dialogue with your employees. During a major change, collaborate with your change champions to figure out how you can involve employees, and make sure you are going the extra mile to hear what they have to say. Pulse surveys can be enormously helpful to do a cultural temperature check, but they may not be enough to capture the intelligence that you need when making a big transformation.

One option to consider is a town hall meeting. Town halls give leaders a chance to engage with employees directly and capture trends in attitudes, fears, and beliefs. Smaller group sessions are another option, giving leaders the opportunity to ask more granular questions about how change will affect employees at work. Regardless of the option you choose, communicating a summary of what you heard and how you plan to address the needs of your employees sends a powerful message of solidarity.

Most importantly, listen to what people have to say, and be clear in your communication.  Communicating with consistency and clarity creates a culture of trust. That level of trust can improve how an employee experiences change, even when you have to communicate about an unpopular decision. 

So, when you’re considering your next transformative project, or shopping for your next big HR tech platform, keep “employee experience” on the tip of your tongue. Focus on listening, preparing, and supporting your employees through these technology changes. Be intentional about creating and investing in an organizational culture that embodies change. If we want to transform HR for the better, we need to do it hand in hand with the employees it will affect. 

Let’s talk about how your organization is planning for change. Send me an email to connect.

Amie Deak is an advisor at IA who came to HR consulting after 20 years in healthcare. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in health administration. She has been a liaison between major healthcare organizations and the communities they serve, planned long-term strategic initiatives, and led large multidisciplinary teams. Her superpower is helping people activate their hidden strengths.

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