Nurturing the Change Champions in HR!

It was Heraclitus, the Greek Philosopher, who said “The only thing that is constant is change.” Even though Heraclitus said this around 500 BC, his words are relevant even today. Hyper-competition, Globalization, Technology, Disruptive Innovation, Consumer Behaviour and more are shaking up the business landscape and are challenging the current ways of managing the business. In this background where Change-Ability has become a critical requirement for organizational survival and where, according to Ken Blanchard Companies, 70% of all Change initiatives fail we need to ask ourselves how can we manage change effectively and how can HR play a key role in this space.

Ulrich and Brockbank (2005) observe that the Change Management competency determines the credibility of the HR Function and Caldwell’s Model (2001) articulates HR’s role in managing both transformative and incremental change. While we can understand that this is a reflection of the evolving role of HR, the challenge is that the HR function is yet to find a balance between delivering operational effectiveness and transitioning to the need of becoming a Change Champion. The fact still remains that the HR function should make the shift to becoming Change Champions without compromising on the need to deliver the expectations of the present. It’s critical for HR to become Change Champions as this will help the business to manage change effectively. So the question is what HR can do to develop the change management capability.

I believe that the field of Organization Development can help to develop & nurture the Change management capability in HR. Let me share below a few OD approaches which, if leveraged by HR, can help HR transform to becoming Change Champions and also win the hearts and minds of their stakeholders.

a. Whole Systems Thinking – OD adopts a whole systems view in its approach. Whether it is an intervention for individuals or teams or the organization, OD looks from a whole system view and the multiple systems which may be impacted. This can be a valuable approach for HR, if they can bring the big picture to everything that they do. This can be valuable in that the alignment with the CEO/Leadership will increase as HR can share how the change initiatives will impact the whole organization, the HR team can prioritize and focus efforts on those that will have the maximum impact from a whole systems/business perspective and this will nurture the ability of the HR Team to be proactive in preparing for managing the impact of change across the organization.

b. Sustainability – In this period of rapid change sustainability is emerging as a key requirement for all businesses. OD focuses on developing self renewing systems and this approach will be of immense strength to HR in making all that HR does sustainable for the future with the ability to self renew for meeting newer emerging challenges. This sustainability mindset will help HR to look at how whatever they do can become sustainable for the long-term. This is about understanding potential changes in future and building HR Processes & policies which can be sustainable for both the business and the people.

c. OD Values – The field of OD reflects two major core values according to Friedlander & Brown– a humanistic orientation and emphasis on organizational effectiveness. These core values can help HR become a powerful partner for the business & the people.

Humanistic Values – In the past many years when the industry went through challenges due to slowdown leading to downsizing, policy changes and many actions which had a negative impact on people, the image of HR as People champion became diluted as HR focused on the business interests and employees identified HR as an agent of the business. While the debate is still on as to how to structure HR for the future and balance the responsibility of enforcing the terms & conditions versus being a people champion/developer, HR can leverage the humanistic values of OD to regain their lost place as People Champions when driving change. The humanistic value is about looking at an organization as a living system with people and not as a machine. It is about prioritizing democratic values and taking the people along. For example HR can use this by moving away from a top down approach to a bottom’s up approach in driving change. While managing change if HR, instead of stressing that the top management is driving the change, can shift to having organizational dialogues with people and shift patterns of thinking towards change and get their natural buy in, HR will truly be seen as a Change Champion with a people touch.

Organization Effectiveness – HR can adopt the OD value of emphasizing Organization Effectiveness by moving away from being focused on increasing only HR effectiveness to being focused on increasing Organization effectiveness and asking how everything that HR does will increase the effectiveness of the overall organization. Secondly it’s about adopting the mindset of an Organization Development Practitioner who is working on the people side of the organization and beginning with the organization view first.
We can add several OD values and approaches which can help the HR function to become more credible, to adapt to the emerging expectations from stakeholders and to nurture the change champions in them. I have shared the critical few in this article but HR can reap tremendous value by adopting an OD mindset and acquiring the OD Skill set.

Let me close with the words of Dave Ulrich and according to him, “As the pace of change increases in every aspect of our lives, HR professionals have become change champions in many companies around the world, and this has generally been much to their employers’ advantage.” So the pace of change is making it a survival need for HR to become Change Champions and OD can help HR to transition to Change Champions. This transition will not only help the HR fraternity but also the business.


Ragland Gamaliel

Director – Institute of Organization Effectiveness


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