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HR’s Strategic Role in Change Management


With the changing demographics in the manpower market, rapid advances in technology, and an increasingly competitive business environment, disruptive change has become the norm in today’s workplace. To C-suite executives, change management is more than a core functional area. It is strategically important to an organisation in maintaining competitiveness and achieving sustainable growth. This underscores the compelling need for HR leaders to understand more thoroughly about the drivers behind the current and foreseeable organisational changes and how these will alter Hong Kong’s employment landscape.

Against this background, the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) conducted an online Survey on Future Workforce Competencies between July and August 2018 to collect relevant data on these critical issues. The specific objectives of this study are:

· To understand the drivers of change affecting organisations in Hong Kong;

· To explore employment outlook of job families and relevance of job competencies in the near future as a result of change; and

· To gauge the level of preparedness of the workforce in adapting to expected organisational change.

During the survey period, the HKIHRM gathered a total of 97 valid responses from its members and other HR professionals. These responses were subsequently processed and analysed.

With respect to the profile of the respondents, nearly 60% worked for companies with an employment size of 100 or above, and over 90% were in middle management positions or above.

Drivers of change

Among the respondents, as many as 60% considered “manpower shortage” as a driver of change. This is hardly surprising since organisations across different economic sectors have encountered difficulties in recruiting suitable employees to fill job roles and they are under mounting pressure to respond to this through a viable change strategy.

“Changing customer behaviour and preference”, which was cited by 46% of respondents as a driver of change, came second. It was followed by “changing competitive landscape due to advances in technology”, with about a third of respondents viewing it as a force behind organisational change.

Regarding their potential impact on employment, the respondents believed that certain drivers of change, specifically automation and wider use of robotics and artificial intelligence, are likely to lead to reduction in jobs. In contrast, no particular driver of change was seen to have significantly greater potential for job creation.

Change management

Among the respondents, 59% identified “employee resistance” as a major obstacle they face when managing and implementing organisation change. Other major obstacles include “lack of resources” and “risk-averse culture”, with each being picked by at least 40% of respondents.

As for the coping strategy to address changes in organisations, most respondents resorted to “equipping employees with the required skills and re-organising jobs and work processes”. Specific measures adopted most frequently by respondents include “invest in re-skilling/upskilling current employees” (55%), “support job rotation & staff mobility” (43%), and “redesign jobs to leverage technology & human skills” (38%).

Employment trends

Close to two-thirds of respondents predicted that job families related to data analytics and business intelligence would become more important in the near future, while jobs in information technology and healthcare are likely to gain importance as well, as over 40% of respondents indicated so.

On the contrary, 67% of respondents were not optimistic about the prospects for general administration and secretarial occupations. Likewise, almost half of respondents expected manufacturing and production jobs to lose importance in the next five years.

With the importance of data analytics/business intelligence and healthcare jobs likely to grow, an overwhelming proportion of respondents found it difficult or very difficult to recruit suitable candidates for these positions. Finding research and development talent was also seen by all of the respondents as difficult or very difficult.

Workforce competencies

In the survey, a high proportion of respondents regarded skills in change management, innovation and people management as critical workforce competencies. Digital and technology competencies, as well as communications and leadership skills were also considered critical, albeit to a lesser degree.

Around 30% of respondents expected digital, data analytics, change management and innovation skills to become increasingly sought after by employers in the next five years.

The respondents reported that it was most challenging to train up their current workforce in critical thinking, innovation and change management. These capabilities are all related to driving organisational change.

HR’s role in facilitating change

More than two-thirds of respondents indicated that future workforce planning was given a high or very high priority on their organisation’s agenda.

When it comes to driving and implementing change, more than 60% of respondents reckoned that HR can play a pivotal role in “supporting business leaders to implement change”, “engaging right talent to cope with change” and “communicating change to stakeholders”.

To successfully discharge these responsibilities, it is imperative that HR professionals possess strong competence in change management. In this connection, the respondents believed communication and persuasion skills are more crucial than others.

When asked about their readiness for change management, six in ten respondents were confident that their organisation’s HR team is geared up for meeting challenges that may arise from organisation changes.

Key takeaways

As revealed in the survey, overcoming employee resistance is critical to successful implementation of organisational change. This calls for a competent HR team who are adept at communication and persuasion to ensure the vision and approach of any change strategy can be conveyed effectively to employees across all layers of an organisation. By establishing an effective communication mechanism, which is a prerequisite for rallying employees’ understanding and support for taking the change process forward, HR can better allay employees’ concerns, ameliorate uncertainties, and collect their feedback.

While re-skilling and up-skilling existing employees are of pivotal importance for change management, HR leaders should ensure the staff are equipped with a right mindset to support and foster organisational change. In this regard, greater attention should be given to cultivating competencies in critical thinking, innovation and change management as most survey respondents found it most challenging to impart these critical change-related soft skills to employees.

As observed by survey respondents, the majority of organisations attach importance to future workforce planning. This reflects the strategic role that the HR function can play in supporting, facilitating and enabling organisational change. Notwithstanding the majority of respondents expressing confidence in meeting the challenges presented by organisational change, HR professionals need to stay agile and remain resilient to keep up with the ever changing environment.

Furthermore, since jobs in data analytics, business intelligence and information technology are likely to become more dominant in the market, HR professionals should be well versed in the latest technology, so that they can be positioned to drive changes and assist organisations through the digital transformation journey.

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