Weave change into your HR processes

Profound changes in an organization must be led from the top, but human resource professionals can play a big part in making them happen.

Consider HR’s role in accelerating Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates’ operational improvement initiative. This 4,500-employee Massachusetts healthcare group embarked on “Care Improvement” three years ago. Chief Human Resources Officer Dan Michaud told me how HR has helped weave the initiative into all the firm’s processes for managing people:

Recruiting. “We tell recruits that this is an organization that’s going through change. We value new perspectives, fresh eyes, and different experiences. We want to engage them in this process. Everyone participates regardless of rank.”
Onboarding. “As part of new employee orientation and training, we describe Care Improvement and our expectations.”
Training. “We’ve created our own certification program. The green level is a one-hour online program that introduces concepts. The bronze level requires three days of training, and participants must also be involved in two “Rapid Improvement Events'” (of 3-5 days each). We encourage executives to go to the silver level to be leaders and teachers, and to be able to coach others in improvement. The expectation is that all senior management will attain bronze this year.”
Rotating people. “We have a fairly good-sized Care Improvement department. We would like to have a care improvement leader at each site eventually.”
Recognizing success: “We do not have monetary rewards for improvement results, but we do recognize successes.”
Communicating. “We use our intranet for sharing stories about successes. At every Rapid Improvement Event there is a report-out, to which everyone is invited.”
Redeploying people who are freed up by process improvements. “We retrain or redeploy people who are freed up by more efficient processes. We have a policy on layoffs: no-one will be laid off as a result of process improvements.”

What do business leaders who are leading change need from HR?

Talent flow. Leaders need help defining new positions and competencies, assessing individuals’ competencies, and matching the two.
Rewards. Business change leaders must be sure that rewards are consistent with the new ways of working. A manager in charge of reengineering the way a health insurer interacted with health care providers redesigned the firm’s service organization by physician specialties, such as obstetrics and gynecology, so that the people handling inquiries would be knowledgeable about the specialty and could coordinate resolution of issues. She needed help in negotiating a dashboard of shared goals across affected departments. She then needed flexibility to tie performance to shared rewards and to implement non-financial recognition for the multiple departments that affected service.
Training and Development. Leaders must develop other managers’ skills at leading changes in the way work is executed. At CSX, the $11 billion railroad, the operations process excellence group develops process improvement and change skills for selected managers. Assistant Vice President John Murphy told me that “high potentials” are appointed to development slots in an 18-month program with more than 250 hours of skills training, including a formal peer assessment that looks at their skills, leadership, and personal style.

Sustaining improvement activities is all about people — managing the social side of change. HR processes can either accelerate or slow progress, so the HR function has a critical role to play.

In future posts, I’ll look further at how HR can help operational improvement professionals enable change, and how to reinvent HR to provide these services.

Question: How have you seen organizations weave change into their people processes?

The above was first published on the Harvard Business Review.

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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Human Resources

Author:Brad Power

Brad is a consultant and researcher in process innovation. His current research is on sustaining attention to process management. He is currently conducting research with the Lean Enterprise Institute.

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