Innovative technologies, globalization, the introduction of machine learning, and other factors have had a significant impact on the field of management. Traditional approaches and principles promoted in the classical theories of leadership and control over personnel have begun to transform under the influence of more advanced and demanded strategies. As a result, the management methods described in specialized literature are being used less frequently, giving way to approaches that involve modern resource bases and contexts.
The field of human resource management is a broad area with a mass of concepts and practices that, despite their value, have also undergone some changes due to a dynamically developing labor market. In particular, engaging technical developments to control personnel, expanding managerial potential, restructuring the classical models of changes in organizations, and other transformations are the outcomes of such development. This work aims to identify what changes have occurred in the field of personnel management and how change management practices have been optimized, including both theoretical findings and individual reasoning based on personal professional experiences.
Change Management in Human Resources
While considering the changes that have occurred in the field of human resources in recent years, one can draw attention to the fact that, despite some shifts, a number of strategies are still applied today. For instance, Cummings et al. (2015) mention the classical model of change developed by Kurt Lewin in the middle of the last century. This concept concerns the regime of changes in the work process, and in accordance with its provisions, three main stages are to be observed for the successful transformation of certain operational aspects – “unfreezing-stabilizing-refreezing” (Cummings et al., 2015, p. 37).
The model is relevant today because it provides a simple and straightforward framework that explains how internal organizational change should take place. In the field of human resources, as a wide and multi-vector environment, not all classical concepts have survived, but Lewin’s methodology remains convenient and in demand.
Since change management requires different stakeholders’ participation, certain aspects of this activity have been transformed due to the changed types of businesses and areas of work. As Muscalu and Ciocan (2016) note, the idea of structural change, aimed at transforming not operational processes but individual organizational levels, has been more developed in modern businesses. The main reason is the expansion of enterprises’ activities, which use a variety of resources and technologies to implement the assigned tasks.
In other words, the more dynamically developing a company is, the more likely it is that structural changes affecting HR activities will be more varied and profound. Within the framework of modern management, this manifests itself not only in structural dimensions but also in other aspects, for instance, cultural, informational, and others (Muscalu & Ciocan, 2016). Therefore, change management correlates with the organization’s work profile directly.
In the HR field, change management requires a comprehensive assessment of not only internal but also external working conditions to coordinate employees’ activities based on companies’ current needs. In the example of non-profit organizations, Flinchbaugh et al. (2020) consider how HR managers adapt to appropriate regimes, such as cost-effective programs. The authors note that finding a balance between effective leadership practices and existing constraints is an urgent task for any change management practice (Flinchbaugh et al., 2020).
Muscalu and Ciocan (2016) confirm this and argue that the ethical context of leadership work in the HR environment is as important as the operational one. Creating the most favorable conditions for optimizing and transforming individual aspects of work is the key to productive leadership in this sphere. As a result, change management in the human resource area is a complex process that involves not only forecasting the results but also adhering to different communication, ethics, and other principles of interaction with colleagues.
At the same time, when building specific change strategies and plans, HR managers need to consider their teams’ internal nuances. Lewis et al. (2016) state that appropriate work to counter resistance needs to be carried out while taking into account the existing conditions and the growing demands on employees. Due to the emergence of many tools for monitoring and optimizing productivity, for instance, digital programs, training courses, and other types of productivity incentives, modern HR specialists have the freedom to choose convenient solutions.
Compared to classical methods of work, when the basic principles of management were applied after orders came from the vertical of power in organizations, today, change management is a significantly more flexible process. In addition, as Muscalu and Ciocan (2016) highlight, this activity has become permanent due to the need to constantly adapt to dynamic working conditions. Therefore, based on the assessment of the changes and updates in HR approaches and practices, one can notice real shifts in management methods.
Changes in Human Resources Practices and Management Approaches
Given the peculiarities of the change management process in HR practice, one can pay attention to the changes that have occurred in this area in recent years and compare modern approaches with earlier ones. According to Neves et al. (2017), in 2010, sociologists and analysts expressed the idea that resistance to organizational change was not irrational and depended on the specifics of measures proposed for implementation in the workflow. However, during this period, the key variables that were considered the primary factors to take into account for the introduction of a successful change management process assumed common criteria with general conclusions and objectives.
Neves et al. (2017) cite the thoughts of researchers in the 2000s who mentioned employees’ well-being, optimism, and commitment as features that influenced the quality of change management. As Cascio and Boudreau (2016) remark, this trend began in the 1960s, when global well-being was considered a defining factor in successful HR strategies. However, with the development of democratic freedoms and the optimization of the labor market, other values and criteria became dominant.
After the emergence of many business tools and the trend of globalization, common values began to transform into individual ones. In particular, Cascio and Boudreau (2016) draw attention to the importance of talent management as one of the HR approaches. The researchers highlight this practice of interaction with personnel as an essential factor that increases the likelihood of successful changes at the organizational level (Cascio & Boudreau, 2016). According to Chaudhry and Joshi (2017), in the early 20th century, ordinary employees were convinced that top managers were “concerned about their comfort with the change and any emergent issues” (p. 39).
Nevertheless, with the expansion of demand for skilled labor and individual capabilities, this trend has transformed critically. Leadership concepts have become more diversified and flexible, and new forms of interaction with personnel have emerged. For instance, Chaudhry and Joshi (2017) consider the concept of distributed leadership, which did not exist in the 20th century and appeared in the early 2000s. Over the years, it has developed into a broad system involving different stakeholders. This example reflects shifts in the perception of change management, which, in turn, have influenced HR practices.
Many methods and approaches to change management in the HR field have been revised due to the obsolescence of traditional practices and the emergence of more advanced strategies. In their study, Jick and Sturtevant (2017) analyze the transformations in this area over the past thirty years and highlight the characteristics that distinguish contemporary trends from earlier ones. For instance, the authors argue that the refreezing stage has proven to be imperfect due to the inability to control the results of changes constantly (Jick & Sturtevant, 2017).
Therefore, the transition to a continuous change management process is a more logical and justified decision. Top managers’ roles have become less important, and the intermediate stages of work, based on individual leaders’ initiatives, are more valuable. Digital sources that optimize a number of processes have become an integral part of HR specialists’ work, for instance, in the context of monitoring employee activity. Finally, according to Jick and Sturtevant (2017), engagement has become a much more important variable than before. Real-time progress is a key success indicator, while abstract goals and objectives implemented by a narrow circle of performers do not have long-term benefits.
As a result, of the aforementioned changes, the HR area has become more flexible, and multitasking is one of the features of this industry in today’s context. Cascio and Boudreau (2016) emphasize the value of cultural norms “that reach beyond economic outcomes” and pay attention to the interpersonal aspects of interaction within the framework of the change management process (p. 108). The quality of work with employees is assessed not based on the expectations of top management but through the prism of labor relations which shape the nature of changes and affect the adoption of specific organizational proposals.
Subordinates’ roles have increased under the influence of such shifts. Today, as Jick and Sturtevant (2017) argue, almost any employee can become a change initiator if his or her proposal is rational and has potentially valuable implications for meaningful performance criteria. Thus, numerous transformations have become the result of a shift in the scale of values and the transition from inflexible to flexible modes of activities.
Change Management: Personal Perspective
Given my personal experience in human resources for several years, I can note that the aforementioned changes are real and observed in modern organizations. Moreover, the focus on individuality has become not only a recommendation but a prerequisite for the qualified work of HR specialists who monitor performance and recruit applicants for specific positions. Approaches to change management, in turn, have become more flexible and do not imply following a clear and uniform algorithm. Conversely, a number of possible strategies are usually considered, and the best practices are selected based on a variety of criteria. They may include the specifics of the upcoming changes, the number of actors involved, the resource base to apply, and some other factors. Therefore, the changes in this area are obvious and significant.
Nonetheless, I would not argue that the human-centered approach has become the main and only indicator of the quality of HR specialists’ work aimed at controlling organizational transformations. According to Claus (2019), in recent years, talent management has begun to give way to more efficient working methods, “such as design thinking, agile management, behavioral economics and analytics” (p. 207).
From the perspective of my experience, I would suggest paying attention not only to human capabilities but also to other factors that ensure successful changes. The implementation of effective and convenient digital tools is one of the solutions. This initiative can help not only reduce the time spent on assessing potential outcomes but also make the entire mode of change convenient and as flexible as possible. In other words, ignoring modern advances in technical progress may be perceived as stagnation in the HR field and failure to address modern objectives and growth strategies successfully.
Strategic agility plays a critical role in HR specialists’ activities, which I have learned during my professional career. Ahammad et al. (2019) confirm this and note that addressing multiple organizational dimensions is largely achieved through agility as the ability to combine strategies and tactical decisions. The introduction of new technologies, an emphasis on talented employees, the formation of flexible control principles, and other tasks allow achieving high efficiency of change management in case of a successful combination. I would recommend modern HR professionals pay more attention to the conditions in which they work and not rely solely on theoretical methodologies. Due to my experience, I have realized how flexible teams can be, and finding the optimal approach in the current conditions is an important task.
The analysis of the changes that have occurred in the HR field from the perspective of change management proves that professional competencies and accents have shifted in favor of more advanced and flexible practices. Traditional concepts have given way to modern ones for a number of reasons – an emphasis on talent management, the emergence of new digital tools, globalization, and other factors.
My personal experience allows me to argue that agility is critical to effective HR work. In case of the combination of approaches and the introduction of not only effective but also convenient tools, the change management process can be implemented much more successfully than with straightforward activities. This conclusion corresponds to the current conditions and characteristics of teams with empowered employees and initiatives encouraged by leaders.
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