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Transformation in uncertain times: It’s still possible

Mark Stelzner, IA
Mark Stelzner
With more than 25 years of HR transformation experience, Mark Stelzner has spent his career fostering relationships through attention to detail, natural curiosity, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Having served as Founder and managing principal of IA for the past 16 years, Mark offers unbiased and candid advice to C-level leaders in nearly all geographies and vertical market segments. A highly sought-after voice in the industry, Mark has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, CNN, and NPR. Named a Top 100 HR Technology Influencer by Human Resources Executive®, Mark is also a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council.

Even in the best of times, HR transformation can be a challenging endeavor. The road to continuous improvement is littered with disruption, as systems, processes and behaviors evolve toward new ways of working. Sprinkle in systemic and global challenges to progress, and transformation can feel downright impossible.

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Today, nearly every organization is facing hurricane-level headwinds, including changing consumer habits, headcount reductions, chronic burnout, shifting markets and C-suite turnover, among others. Whether during surprise board meetings, emergency huddles, or the dreaded re-planning session, this quarter’s confidential leadership agenda will certainly encompass the notion of “doing fewer things well.” So, wherever you are on your transformational journey, this means quickly preparing a thoughtful approach to this difficult reality.

For many, the gut reaction is to cancel your initiative. Don’t. In fact, economic downturns and other business challenges often present the best opportunity to tackle transformation, for a few reasons:

  • There is nothing like organizational pressure to put top opportunities in sharp relief, thereby making it easier to focus on what’s truly important.
  • Due to increased visibility for what remains, leadership alignment is foundationally higher, resulting in stronger advocacy, fewer competing priorities and common goals for all who remain.
  • As other projects may have been halted, both capacity and capability may be realigned to bring lift, efficiency and new capabilities to your program.

This doesn’t mean the transformation will be able to move forward without changes. Your plans will certainly change and it’s incumbent upon leadership to make the necessary adjustments. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The original business case and KPIs may have been built for a world that no longer exists, so proactively adapt both qualitative and quantitative value drivers that leverage the current and projected reality.
  • Given that the transformation timeline may slow down, pause or speed up, prepare no more than three scenarios that align with the timing of major announcements and the pace and revised readiness of the business to absorb change.
  • As the goal is to keep moving forward, a large-scale transformation may necessitate the prioritization of either foundational or clearly differentiated offerings in lieu of a fuller scope of services.
  • Budget will absolutely be a factor, so work transparently with your internal teams and external providers to reassess capital and operating expenses in support of your newly proposed scenarios, including deferrals, re-negotiations and revised population counts should an unfortunate downsizing occur.
  • Changes to leadership mean transformation champions may come and go, so ensure key stakeholders are fully briefed and aligned with goals, including specific and targeted requests toward your executive sponsors.

No one can do this alone, so if you’re in the business of selling and supporting HR solutions, you too have a critical role to play in helping your clients navigate this incredibly difficult moment:

  • Client relationship managers should proactively audit the unused capabilities of solutions that are already licensed, thereby creating awareness of the value that could be derived from existing tools and offerings.
  • Strategic account managers should not wait for the client to call, instead consuming news across their portfolio to assess what they can contractually and financially offer to ease this moment of pain and suffering.
  • Product teams can add further value by demonstrating new enhancements that allow for easier integration, faster consumption and seamless navigation without a massive refresh or overhaul of the core configuration.
  • System integration firms can emphasize knowledge transfer to internal client resources as a means of decreased co-dependency and a lower cost for ongoing configuration and testing.
  • Managed services providers can elevate data insights and behavioral heuristics to amplify the reassignment of support teams to the most pressing and measurable outcomes.

While some transformations will be halted or deferred due to unforeseen circumstances, many will be able to move forward under a new lens and focus. In doing so, we can embrace a unique opportunity for honesty, transparency, unification and deeply human connection. By reframing the approach and aligning near-term steps toward long-term goals, it’s possible to achieve transformation under any circumstance.

Learn from author and expert Mark Stelzner in person at the HR Tech Conference next month in Las Vegas. He and IA colleague Jennifer Payne will present the pre-conference session “Transformation 101: A Playbook for Success” at 3 p.m. on Sept. 12. See session details here.