While stressful for organizations, the pandemic has presented a fascinating study on how people adjust to profound shifts in their everyday work. For years, many executives believed that people tended to struggle with change at work. But the past year has proven that is not true. People may not always like change, but they are amazingly good at it.

Think about it. What would have happened if you told your CEO, before the pandemic, that the entire professional workforce should move to a remote work model within two weeks? Your executive team and business management probably would have thought you were joking or totally naïve. But as it turned out, that's precisely what happened in most companies worldwide over the past year.

While this dramatic shift in the employee experience created significant challenges, for the most part, business operations kept going on relatively smoothly. Financial books were getting closed on time and compliantly. HR still recruited and onboarded new talent, promoted from within, and developed existing workers. Sales and marketing kept customers engaged with relevant products, services, and offers. The same old stuff got done despite the rapid change to extreme social distancing and the broader stresses affecting society.

According to Steve Hunt, chief expert of technology and work at SAP, recognizing people’s capacity to adapt has changed how HR views its relationship with change and with technology. "HR organizations are now focusing on how the work experience can help employees effectively deal with changes that are coming to them. This is where technology plays a huge role,” he shared during the ASUG Future of Work and Modern HR webcast.

From Controlling Change to Managing Changes

People do not dislike change itself—what they dislike is poorly managed change. And many people’s past experiences with change have not been good ones. Poor change management leads to a level of uncertainty and anxiety, and poor planning results in lost time and inefficiency. But if people understand the reasons for change and feel supported and equipped to manage it, they are amazingly good at adapting to change.

It's this inherent willingness and ability to learn and make things better that can be a competitive niche for the business. "People can cope with amazing levels of change when they understand why it is happening, are confident they can adapt to it, and feel supported and cared for during the transition," Hunt explains. "The role of HR is increasingly not about managing processes, but creating experiences that help the workforce deal with change better."

This shift from managing processes to managing change is turning HR organizations into advocates for technology to support all business areas at scale. For example, cloud technology is proving to be far more flexible than on-premise solutions for three reasons: access to specialized tools, ability to foster connection and engagement, and an environment dynamically evolving with the company.

"Cloud-based human experience management solutions are the most advantageous technology for HR organizations because they can be quickly deployed, are relatively easy to reconfigure, and provide employees with resources to deal with change," observed Hunt. "HR professionals can clearly connect and align their workforce management practices with the impact they have on their business."

Such technology is increasingly valuable for HR organizations and the employees they support, especially when contact tracing, mitigating COVID-19 exposure risks, and reassigning talent as needed based on skills. With an integrated IT landscape of specialized applications, real-time insights, and advanced analytics, the team can quickly understand and resolve unique problems.

As their digital transformation continues to advance, HR organizations can attain the ultimate edge in helping employees adapt: linking HR activities to business activities transparently. Hunt equates this capability with treating employees like the company’s biggest cause.

"When the business knows precisely the cost of retaining their people and their value in terms of ROI, decision-makers can understand how their workforce management practices are contributing to business results," Hunt said.

Measurements such as employee satisfaction, turnover, skill sets, and diversity may be useful when advancing the HR strategy. However, those metrics are more beneficial to the business when connected to why each employee was hired in the first place, such as profitability, customer satisfaction, and other operational metrics.

Taking Advantage of an Enviable Position in the Business

Supporting change may not be a new concept for HR leaders, but helping employees and organizations take full advantage of change is a unique opportunity to impact the business more deeply. It's a chance to challenge fundamental assumptions about how change impacts work and innovate new ways to create an experience that is more effective and meaningful—no matter when employees work.

Interested in learning more about adoption and change? Join me on March 23–24 during the ASUG Best Practices for SAP S/4HANA event and catch the latest insights from these sessions:

  • Culture Renovation: Leadership Actions to Build and Unshakeable Company
  • Rethinking Change Management to Drive Business Outcomes
  • Managing Change: Overcoming Resistance
  • Change Is Changing: How to Increase Value in Change Management Programs

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