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Human Resources Key to Leading Transformation

Liane George, VP Human Resources & CHRO, United Launch Alliance (ULA)

Liane George, VP Human Resources & CHRO, United Launch Alliance (ULA)

Transformation–perhaps a simple word but one that can cause uncertainty with your workforce if not handled properly.

United Launch Alliance is the nation’s premier provider of rocket launch services for Department of Defense, NASA and commercial customers and has been on a transformational journey for the last few years. The space launch industry has seen many changes in the last couple of years and ULA is taking the necessary steps to emerge in the most competitive way to maintain our position as the premier launch business in the world. While we do embrace new competitive challenges facing our industry, it does require us to rethink how we do business. We believe that competition is good for our industry as it drives innovation and makes everyone better.

When a company goes through a transformation, Human Resources must be at the forefront, leading efforts and creating policies and procedures that will support the goals of the business. Consider that as you go through a major change. All stakeholders may be at a point of flux and each person will respond to the change in a different way. This is perhaps the biggest cultural challenge.

A few key recommendations as you lead your company through change:

HR Partnership with leaders at all levels is critical. You must do all you can to develop and support leaders from first line supervisors all the way to C-Suite Executives. A recent review of ideas that would be good “morale builders” uncovered that one of the top things you can do as a company to build and maintain morale has nothing to do with pizza and ice cream! It is to recruit, develop and maintain the strongest cadre of leaders possible. In times of change, your best and highest performing employees will “hang in there” with you if they have leader(s) they believe in. Change is change and is inherent to all companies today. If you have a leadership team that your employees trust and have confidence in, they will want to be a part of the future.

Employee Advocacy: Remind yourself that HR needs to have an employee advocacy orientation. In times of change it is that much more important to truly “hear” what employees are saying, and more importantly, what they may not be saying. It is also critical to consider the impact to your employees who may be leaving your organization and, equally important, for those who will be staying.

It is important to seek out ways in which to support the organization during the change and also to identify productive, proactive, and optimistic activities to drive the organization forward”

Business Partnership: It is paramount to be a true partner to the business. Aim to first, be the best leader you can be and second, to bring your HR background and experiences as you develop ideas on how you can help the organization succeed. Ask good questions, think long-term strategy, and develop thoughts on what you can bring that will help support the success of the organization.

Continuous Improvement Mindset: It seems a bit counter intuitive, but when you are going through a lot of change it is a great time to pause and focus on continuous improvement opportunities. It is the perfect time to streamline processes, reduce waste and redundancies, and emerge with more streamlined approaches.

Feedback: The importance of feedback cannot ever be understated, but during a time of transformation it is critical. All ideas can be good ones provided they accomplish one of two things; (a) it will help the company successfully, and profitably, execute on its current business and (b) it will help the company to successfully compete for future business.

Metrics: As we all know, analytics is playing a bigger and bigger role for our profession. It is imperative to use these metrics in a meaningful way. It is best when a concise set of metrics is established and then that same set, for comparative purposes, is reviewed on a frequent cadence (monthly is ideal and no longer than quarterly). While metrics provide a “rear view mirror” look at your organization, they will uncover trends that must either be dealt with quickly (put action plans into place) or be put on a watch list that you will more closely monitor over the next several weeks.

Resignations: While is it always hard to receive a resignation from a key employee or leader, it is a part of doing business during times of transformation–get comfortable with this. Employees have differing tolerances to change, and perhaps uncertainty, and that is OK. Do not take this personally, and whenever possible, keep the lines of communication open because you never know when an opportunity might arise to welcome that same person back to your organization.

Connect with all Employees: This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you help your organization navigate through change. If employees feel heard, connected to, trusted, and valued, you will have a strong workforce who will carry your business forward. Leaders, especially during these times, need to be as physically present as possible. Travel to work places, do walkabouts, talk to leaders, and just observe employees in the areas that they work. This presence, in and of itself, will make employees feel valued and will allow them to connect decisions, even difficult ones, with real leaders who need to make them. This can provide employees with a different appreciation for actions that need to be taken.

Times of change can be challenging but they can also provide great opportunity. As HR professionals it is important to seek out ways to support the organization during change and also to identify productive, proactive, and optimistic activities to drive the organization forward in a successful way.

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