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3 HR tips to overcome organisational change The main reason of an organisation going through a paradigm shift is to achieve transition from current to a desired state.

By Madhur Ramani

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The old adage, "the only thing constant in the world is change," has never been more prevalent than in today's society/industry. Key internal and external factors like economic recession, downsizing, restructuring and M&As are driving radical changes in the way organisations work and shape the strategic context for managing people at present and in future. In this context, the role of the HR function is more than ever at the centre of action.

The main reason of an organisation going through a paradigm shift is to achieve transition from current to a desired state. Despite individual successes, change is difficult to pull off and a lot of change initiatives fail.

For example, A Watson Wyatt survey of 1,000 companies found that less than 33 per cent attained their profit goals after a change initiative. This transformational phase is accompanied by emotions, such as fear, conundrum, denial or insecurity among employees when they are subject to change.

To counter such a predicament, the HR personnel of any organisation ought to act upon the following areas:

1. Try to Retain Culture: Change brings in uncertainty and anxiety that results in a lot of negative energy. To sustain a great culture, organisations must know how employees feel about their jobs, management structure and the internal communication process.

During the period of change, online and offline AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions can be a fantastic platform to engage with employees about this. For example, Google's Thank God It's Friday (TGIF) is one of their many initiatives to bridge the gap between employee and management.

The TGIF exercise helps the management to directly get in touch with the employees through a Q&A session. While TGIF wasn't designed from an organisational change perspective, it is a fantastic engagement activity that can easily be adapted to be used as an AMA during organisational change.

2. Have Clear Communication: Poor communication is one of the most common pitfalls during an organisational change. A study by KPMG found that 83 per cent of corporate M&As failed to enhance shareholder value due to low levels of communication.

Ensuring proper communication during organisational change isn't just the responsibility of the corporate communication department of an organisation, but also that of the HR department. This needs to be realised not only by the HR themselves, but also by the senior management that must get the senior HR team involved before the change is announced. The (internal) communication agenda and discourse during organisational change should fall under two broad areas –

  • Communicating the reason and vision of the change - Till the organisational change process gets completed, HR must get the top management to regularly address questions and concerns of employees to reinforce the vision and benefits of change. Many senior management and HR people wrongly presume that addressing questions and concerns a couple of times during the change process is good enough. In reality, that is rarely the case.
  • Clearly defining roles of employees - One of the biggest casualties of an organisational change process is the lack of role clarity for employees that arise during the change process. This eventually becomes a significant hindrance to the success of the change as good people either start departing due to ambiguity in their roles and expectations, or they stop being invested in the mission of the organisation.

During M&As and downsizing, there is a significant lack of clarity about the future of many people due to overlapping skill sets. Also, in many cases (especially during a downsizing), people might have to take on additional workload on a temporary or permanent basis. In all these scenarios, proper communication is the key to avoid insecurity (and in-turn attrition) among employees.

3. Retain Quality Employees: During an organisational change, the company's ability to retain the best employees is of tremendous importance. The change brings in more behavioural issues over technical ones. From the perspective of say, downsizing, it is of paramount importance that HR pay attention to the psychological needs of employees and create an environment of fairness.

Most people feel bogged down by the constant stress of being laid off as organisational change normally involves some threat – real or perceived – of personal loss for those involved. This threat may vary from job security to simply the disruption of an established routine. Therefore, during the change period, HR must go out of its way to retain good talent by being perceived as fair and communicative.

Most organisations significantly underestimate the skill and experience required to handle organisational change. By planning well in advance organisations can add the right skill set in the HR function. While that still may not guarantee success in the transformation process, however, it can significantly improve the odds of success.

Madhur Ramani

Co-founder and Managing Partner, Stratum Consulting

Madhur Ramani is Co-founder and Managing Partner at Stratum Consulting. The firm designs and builds social business HR systems for FMBs, SMEs, start-ups and other businesses. 

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