The pace change occurs in the external environment is constantly quickening, and the effect this produces upon the organizational context is increasingly dramatic. Change typically requires individuals to adopt a different approach to work and to modify their behaviour in the workplace, but more often than not change also entails individuals to learn new skills and enhance and hone their professional ability. Inasmuch as each individual, of any given change target group within an organization, is prompted to exhibit a different behaviour and gain new competencies to properly perform his/her job, HR professionals should show to be in the front line as regards their professional development in order to strengthen their credibility as change agents and change facilitators.
Despite the numerous assumptions and allegations, at times anecdotal, made now and then about the future of HR, just because this or that company has come up with a new way to perceive the HR Function, HR is definitely here to stay, at least as long as robots will not totally replace human beings. Since change management is essentially concerned with managing and controlling the likely impact change may make on individuals, the pivotal role played by HR in change management can be definitely taken as axiomatic. As contended by some of the prominent proponents of the socio-technical system from the British Tavistock Institute (Trist and Bamforth, 1951; Rice, 1958; Trist, 1960), organizational effectiveness and success rely on the adoption of their model. Whether employers should focus on the technical system only, to the detriment of the human social system, change may in fact prove to be extremely difficult to introduce, never mind to sustain over time.
HR professionals, notwithstanding, cannot on no account rest on their laurels, let alone can they assume to be those in charge of planning and introducing change whether they are unable to set a good example to the other employees. To effectually perform this daunting task HR should, first and foremost, constantly strive to expand its professional expertise and competence so as to prove employers, and the entire employee population, to be able to autonomously introduce and execute change when required.
Whereas HR professionals should be well acquainted with change management models and approaches, and with the relevant theories enabling them to carefully analyse the impact that change may potentially make on individuals so as to timely identify the countermeasures to oppose to the resistance eventually offered by employees to it, not all of the HR professionals might be fully acknowledged with some technical skills which would enable them to more properly and successfully perform their change agent or change facilitator role.
Planning and introducing change can be regarded, and should be hence managed, as a project so that a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of project management methodologies would indeed prove to be beneficial to HR professionals, clearly not only to hone their change management skills. Change management, at the same time, exposes employers to a considerable number of risks so that possessing a good understanding and knowledge of risk management would definitely increase HR professionals’ chances to successfully perform their change manager role.
Change management, project management and risk management can be hence regarded as three different disciplines HR professionals should become increasingly acquainted with, and able to autonomously master and adopt with complete confidence. The question is whether these methodologies can be actually considered mutually exclusive or complementary.
Change is in general required within an organization when a gap between the current state and the desired state is identified; change management can be thus defined as the process activated by the employer to bridge this gap, taking heed of the possible resistance offered by employees (Boddy, 2008). Change management focuses on individual reaction to change and aims at controlling the restraining forces eventually opposing it. The relevance of people in change management is properly stressed by Rumble (2011), who defines change management as “an approach to address people-oriented implementation risks arising from change.”
Fanning (2005) contends that “projects bring together resources, skills, technology and ideas to achieve business objectives and deliver business benefits.” Project management is thus intended as a structured method aiming at enabling employers attaining their intended objectives, within the preset deadline and budget constraints. Project management is also defined as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements” (2013, Project Management Institute).
Drawing a comparison between change management and project management
From the definitions of project management and change management it clearly transpires that project management is concerned with processes, tasks, resources, deadlines and deliverables; whereas change management aims at giving individuals to understand the importance of introducing, accepting and ultimately genuinely embracing change.
It may be argued that project managers at large perform the “administrative” activities associated with the management of a project, whereas change managers take care of the adverse, serious consequences change may have for individuals (Rumble, 2011). Change management is thus sorely important not only to ensure that the results expected from a project are obtained, but also to avert serious consequences in terms of employee motivation, contribution and morale, which all considerably impact organizational performance.
Not all of the projects planned and initiated within a business have a dramatic impact on individuals and require hence change management procedures to be planned and implemented so that project managers do not necessarily need to take care of this facet. Change management approaches, on the other hand, are adopted only whether a project entails individuals to change the way they perform their activities or behave, and may be hence pushed beyond their comfort zone.
Despite essentially different, project management can be easily integrated with change management. Since in order to effectually manage change a broad knowledge of HR theories is necessarily required, nonetheless, the two approaches can be properly managed in combination only by HR practitioners who have gained a solid understanding of project management, in addition to a thorough acquaintance with change management.
Project management is habitually performed executing five process groups (Prince2 identifies eight management processes), to wit: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing (2013, Project Management Institute). Change management, taking as a reference the model outlined by Boddy (2008), unfolds through four stages, namely initiating, planning, designing and implementing. The outcome produced by the process does not actually represent one of its specific phases, but rather the result it yields.
The two processes glaringly appear to be similar in structure. The analogies between project management and change management appear to be even more evident whether we consider the “life cycle”, also known as “rational-linear”, change management model. In this instance, the activities typical of project management can be in fact even more clearly identified.
Irrespective of the specific methodology used to perform project management and change management, it can be contended that both processes essentially aim at enabling organizations and people respectively to move from an initial state to a desired state, after a transition period, in a structured and controlled fashion.
This circumstance, nonetheless, may prove to be misleading about the real objectives which project management and change management aim at obtaining. As properly summarized by Prosci (2009), project management is concerned with the identification of the prescriptive activities necessary to smoothly move from the current state to the desired state. To attain this objective project management focuses on the identification of the necessary resources and on their most appropriate and convenient deployment; it hence analyses the systems, processes, organizational structure and job roles so as to come up with optimal solutions fitting the new employer needs and circumstances.
Change management, by contrast, is concerned with the identification of all the activities enabling the employer to successfully introduce change and oppose the restraining forces eventually arising against it. Change management essentially defines the activities and initiatives required to support the impacted target groups, in order for the individuals within these to accept and embrace change, avert disruptions during the change implementation process and ensure a smooth transition (Prosci, 2009).
Change management and project management essentially serve the same objective, but in a different fashion; the former is concerned with individuals, whereas the latter with processes. It can be contended that change management and project management represent the two sides of the same organizational performance coin.
The two activities can be indeed rather easily integrated. As discussed earlier, nonetheless, whether it is highly likely that a change manager may be able to properly manage change in autonomy, it is sorely unlikely that a project manager may be able to effectually manage change of his/her own. Project managers are typically very structured individuals with a process and procedures mindset enabling them to plan and execute their task with great precision and methodology. To deal with individual fears, expectations and at times anxiety, nevertheless, the knowledge of HR management and motivation theories assumes a paramount importance.
Change management is not about structure, processes and timelines; a structured approach, planning, deliverables and milestones are indeed crucially important to manage change, but whereas these activities represent the end in itself in project management, these can be regarded as the means to an end in change management. This does on no account imply that managing change is easy for HR; only individuals with a broad knowledge of organizational culture, motivation theories, employ relations and HR management theories and practices can in fact effectually perform this daunting task within the HR function.
As stressed by Rumble (2011), change management can be considered as “an approach to address people-oriented implementation risks arising from change” and “focuses on people-oriented risk areas.” Change management entails, it can be argued by definition, risk so that change managers should invariably be ready to expect the unexpected.
The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors’ International Standards define risk as “the possibility of an event to occurring that will have an impact on the achievement of objectives” and measures it “in terms of impact and likelihood.” Every project is indeed exposed to events and consequences which can offer benefits or pose threats to its successful implementation. Both project managers and change managers need therefore to be prepared to manage sudden undesirable and desirable occurrences.
Risk management is essentially concerned with identifying the impact and consequences, both negative (downside risk) and positive (upside risk), which the events occurring in the external context might produce in the organizational environment, and properly treat and capitalize on these. As maintained by Flood (2013), "Risk management is analysing, and then acting appropriately, on risk." This clearly entails risk management being regarded as a process concerned with “planning, organizing, directing, and controlling resources to achieve given objectives when surprisingly good or bad events are possible” (Head, 2009). Since Risk management is habitually concerned with addressing negative, rather than with exploiting positive events, it can be in many respects regarded as a modern variation of problem solving (Head, 2009).
Rumble (2011) identifies five main areas of risk in change management, to wit: poor sponsorship and leadership of change, a not accurately and sufficiently articulated storyline, poor consideration of the stakeholders, insufficient and poor communication of change, and lack of change empowerment.
The introduction and implementation of change within an organization arguably represents one of the most difficult task employers are prompted to perform in modern times; risks can literally arise at any time. Notwithstanding, it all depends on the accuracy and care paid by employers and change managers during the planning and preparation phases of change. The more accurate the preparation, the less likely that major risks may occur. To this extent change managers and change agents should strive to consider all the possible occurrences which may affect their plans. Gaining a good insight into risk management techniques will unquestionably prove to be extremely helpful and beneficial to change managers, it can in fact enable them to:
- Detect and classify risks;
- Measure and evaluate the impact of each risk before it actually occurs;
- Identify the measures which can be taken to mitigate downside risks and take advantage of upside risks.
The synergic use of the three methodologies
Despite representing and being considered as stand-alone approaches, risk management, project management and change management can be definitely effectively used in combination. The combined use of the three disciplines can indeed results in a synergy, which by enabling change managers to enhance the effectiveness of their activity, can show to be very productive. The role of change managers is clearly particularly hard so that the HR professionals called to play it should do their utmost to gain an in-depth knowledge of the three methodologies to build on their complementariness.
To effectively play the role of change managers, notwithstanding, HR professionals should also be capable to properly analyse the internal context, that is to say the organizational components which shape individual behaviour and strongly influence the way individuals may react to a proposed change. Context and culture may in fact make or break any employer’s bid to introduce change within an organization. As suggested by Pettigrew et al (1992), organizational context can prove to be either receptive or non-receptive of change and hence badly affect the employer capability to introduce and implement change. The organizational context should be consequently definitely regarded as an additional area of risk by change managers.
Managing change does not entail the sheer knowledge of a structured model to be used in a prescriptive fashion. Change management aims at gaining change target groups, that is to say individual, acceptance, support, participation and ultimately engagement. It entails change managers to be able to understand organizational culture and individual fears, and being able to help employees to ease these.
The knowledge of the different change management models and approaches developed over time, of the different causes which may account for individuals to oppose and resist change, and of the assessment methods used to evaluate driving and restraining forces to change are all unquestionably significant.
Managing change is not about glory and visibility, but rather about performing one of the most sensitive activities within a business. The knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to effectually perform this daunting task might prove to never be enough; that is basically why this activity can be on no account left in the hands of those who are not properly prepared to perform it, also within the HR function.
Longo, R., (2016), Change Management, Project Management and Risk Management (for HR): Complementary or Mutually Exclusive?; Milan: HR Professionals, [online].