The role of HR in change management: key issues and priorities

Businesses today are operating in a highly dynamic environment where the contribution that HR professionals can bring is paramount to success. Dr Sue Shortland reviews the main findings of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) People Profession 2023 survey.

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This article is taken from the Winter 2023/24 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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View your copy of the Winter 2023 issue of Think Global People magazine.


Economic instability characterises the world of business today.  According to the CIPD’s recent People Profession 2023 International Survey Report, economic pressures are driving businesses to seek out cost savings and rein in spending. As such, ensuring increased productivity has become a key issue for businesses worldwide. Upskilling their workforces and ensuring there are no skills gaps are important factors in maintaining and improving employee productivity.Organisations are also setting targets to achieving net zero by 2050 and this has implications for the employment of the workforce as well. After the pandemic, hybrid working has become very popular amongst employees and employers need to balance their requirements for on-site working with employee preferences for working at home while driving forward higher productivity levels. Flexible working presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses and requires investment to inform practice going forward.Technology change and digital transformation are also taking place at a rapid pace. Artificial intelligence (AI) has hit the headlines in terms of both its potential for improving business outcomes and productivity. It potentially makes business less dependent upon a human population in the workforce. While this has implications for reducing employment costs, it also suggests that the least skilled individuals are likely to face difficulties in securing employment, potentially driving forward unemployment.The CIPD also identifies changing employment relationships, the role of social media, and globalisation, and the integration of international talent as major trends driving change in businesses across the world.


The HR profession is at the centre of managing and responding to change within organisations. HR is involved in change management in respect of digital transformation and advancing technology, economic change, as well as flexible, hybrid and new ways of working.The CIPD identifies the top workforce priorities in its survey as varying across the world. However, the top three are identified as upskilling, reskilling and building workforce capabilities, measuring productivity and financial performance, and workforce planning and management. Interestingly, in the UK, employee engagement is identified as the top priority with the second being a focus on recruitment, mobility and turnover.

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The CIPD’s findings, particularly in respect of the UK, are of particular interest to global mobility professionals. They indicate that UK companies in particular are concerned that they are able to resource their businesses globally and recognise the value of mobility to skills capability development, productivity and performance.Employees value international experience for their own career development and progression. The capabilities that they gain are of immense value to their employers as well. Global mobility therefore presents a win-win solution for both business and the workforce.


The CIPD also notes that in terms of governance, HR tends to be poorly represented on the boards of UK companies. This means that board members may lack understanding of the value of people and workforce potential in their decision-making. The CIPD argues that HR’s professional ability provides credibility and can influence strategic thinking on people management issues.HR professionals demonstrate a range of skills and capabilities crucial for today’s successful businesses – business acumen, interpersonal skills, people management support, and specialist skills such as talent management, employment law, business transformation, organisational design, and data analytics. Bringing these skills and capabilities together provides crossfunctional expertise. This can be applied to managing change proactively and/or in response to unforeseen changes in the economic, technological, and employment practice landscape.Recent academic research into corporate governance reflects this with board members confirming the value that HR can bring to their decision-making.


Turning to hybrid working, this has had a major effect on organisational cultures and has presented challenges to business in terms of ensuring cultural cohesion. To ensure that performance targets remain high and are achieved, the perceived impact of hybrid working must be assessed and managed effectively.Hybrid working requires changes to performance management strategies to ensure that clear goals and expectations are set and articulated across diverse environments. Regular communication and transparent feedback are needed alongside data driven evaluation of employee performance.HR practitioners need not only to understand the impact of hybrid working and how it plays a critical role in people management, but also ensure that this is communicated to line managers and the workforce effectively.


In relation to environmental sustainability, the CIPD notes that large businesses typically have a sustainability strategy with public sector organisations slightly more likely to have this than private sector and voluntary organisations.The CIPD notes that the HR function is involved in the sustainability agenda although, it notes that the UK is significantly less likely to have HR teams involved in all stages of sustainability strategy than in other countries in the world. It says that HR needs to play a far more pivotal role in driving environmental sustainability strategies.This is of interest to global mobility professionals as increasingly they are undertaking sustainability reviews in terms of the deployment of individuals internationally and as such the wider HR community can benefit from their experience and expertise.


The CIPD comments that people practitioners should draw upon research in order to inform practice.  However, it does recognise that HR professionals are often too time-poor to keep abreast of the latest research.The CIPD notes that HR practitioners are more likely to rely on personal experience than on published or summarised research – this is problematic because HR practitioners should value and use research in order to understand trends, best practice, and options for their own businesses. The CIPD concludes that HR practitioners need to prioritise learning and development and pay more attention to evidence-based research in their decision-making.

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