HR In the Driving Seat for Digital Transformation

Christina Cowling, Director Change Management, VEON [NASDAQ: VEON]

Christina Cowling, Director Change Management, VEON [NASDAQ: VEON]

What are the top priorities for HR leaders in 2019? According to Gartner* one of them is to support the companies’ digital transformation; and linked to this, to build internal change management capability.

"Wherever you decide to place your CMO, the HR Business Partner has an important role to play"

During the last 20 years I have been an independent business change manager working on technology driven transformation projects. Most of my clients had no internal change management function, despite being global blue-chip organizations. I am often asked “where does Change Management best sit within the organization?” In a typical project, the change management work stream reports into the business project lead or sponsor. This is because the IT department may be delivering the tools to enable transformation, but it is the business that is expected to adopt new ways of working and achieve the transform results.

But today, faced with an ever-changing technological landscape, many companies are looking to develop their in-house change management capability by building a Change Management Office (CMO). But where does the CMO best reside within the overall organization structure?

Richard Newton, Partner at Issoria Change, a specialist Change Management Office consultancy states that there are a number of factors influencing the organizational “home” of the CMO. The most important factors relate to the level of active executive support and sponsorship and with this active support CMOs can be highly successful in almost any organizational location. “Nevertheless, our research shows a strong correlation between the reporting lines of a CMO and its maturity. This relates back to sponsorship, as well as closeness to the key people shaping the change agenda and to those driving individual change initiatives. For these reasons, we tend to see the most successful CMOs are based in teams like Strategy and Transformation, which not only shape the change agenda, but also tend to create a drive for more mature change management in the organization.”

Role of HR Business Partners

Wherever you decide to place your CMO, the HR Business Partner has an important role to play. This role is above and beyond obvious areas of hiring, firing, outsourcing and organizational design. There is a real opportunity for the HR BPs to become custodians of change for their area of responsibility. To do this, they need a solid understanding of the end to end processes at the core of their business’ success. Understanding, for example:

• How an airline launches a new route
• How a telecom company builds a new base station
• How a pharmaceutical company brings a new drug to market

In addition to this they need to be prepared to take a deep dive into the business processes for the function they support; be it finance, procurement, manufacturing, supply chain, and more. The HR BP is ideally placed to develop this knowledge and can therefore add value in major transformation initiatives from the outset.

To become the custodians of change, what additional skills are required?


HR BPs acting as change managers must clearly articulate how technology enhances business performance and to do so in a way that engages business stakeholders. This requires the ability to see the world as others do and speak their language. For example: As a HR BP to the finance organization, be prepared to talk in numbers. “The project will reduce month end close effort from 20 FTE for 5 days to 10 FTE and 3 days. This means an additional 70 days for value added activities; or a cost saving of $$$.”

For the Head of Customer Services, you will need to describe how a new system can, for example, reduce call handling time, increase opportunities to up sell, and improve overall customer satisfaction ratings.

For some functions it is all about risk mitigation. So Legal, Audit and Internal Controls teams will need to hear how new technology reduces risk and drives compliance.

Project Management

HR BPs acting as change managers must be great project managers. The ability to plan activities and resources, identify risks and mitigations, track and report progress is vital to the successful implementation of any transformation project. Those activities that change managers are responsible for, such as training and communication, are often on the critical path. So, getting ahead of the game and being prepared to accommodate last minute changes is crucial.


Organizations with a strong coaching culture are more likely to succeed in their change initiatives. HR BPs involved in change management must be able to coach on multiple levels. They rely on key influencers and subject matter experts to support and drive change. These individuals may need coaching in their role of change agents. Business users may receive instructor-led training or eLearning to acquire new skills. But coaching is a more effective way to drive new behaviours. Even senior management may benefit from coaching on how best to engage with and enthuse the masses.

In the era of cloud-based solutions where new releases are expected every 3-6 months, there has never been a better time to be a change manager. If building in-house change capability is on your agenda this year…. then be a pioneer! Lead the way with confidence and help your business quickly adopt new technology and achieve its transformation goals.

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