Leading HR in Times of Change and Uncertainty [Session Summary]

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The following article is a short summary of a presentation about ‘Leading HR in Times of Change and Uncertainty’ at The CHRO Virtual Summit by George Kohlrieser – Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD Business School.

With a background in hostage negotiation, George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD Business School presented attendees at The CHRO Virtual Summit with a fascinating overview on how to lead HR in times of change and uncertainty. The premise of the session was that HR leaders must never allow themselves to be held hostage, be it physically, or emotionally, so that they can better lead in periods of uncertainty (which is essentially a constant). Leading HR today is no easy task – so it’s best to be prepared.

“As HR leaders, you have to never feel powerless, you have to find some way to not be a hostage”
In order not to be held hostage, leaders must devote care and attention to developing trust and optimism within their teams. Kohlrieser describes that there are many ways in which we can be held hostage in the business world; from our self-doubts, fears, and regrets, to the actions of others. However, by taking a conscious stand to develop resilience and to be the master of your own fate, it’s possible to exert more control over your emotional state. This is what Kohlrieser describes as ‘leading from the mind’s eye’, a mindful, bounded reaction to the internal and external variables that leaders face each day.
But how does this play out when change processes and uncertainty are an essential element in the contemporary business environment? Kohlrieser describes that people don’t actively resist change itself, they resist the pains associated with change and the general fear of the unknown. While the brain is wired to interpret and seek out new experiences, change is not always a positive experience. People tend to resist change if they feel a lack of influence in the process and a lack of understanding about the change outcomes. In this instance, they will be more likely to support the process with increased engagement, understanding, and responsibility. To help foster this outlook, leaders of change need to develop a strong base around them – an environment of trust and openness. In this environment, it’s far more likely that people will embrace change, work through issues, and see the potential benefits first.
During the change process, it is critical that leaders are not a hostage to fear, because it negatively impacts your thoughts, actions, and how you relate to those around you. Fear-driven interactions can have a hugely negative impact on a team, and a critical impact on how others view you and your motivations. It’s therefore key to drive meaning making through meaning-making practices, such as; bonding with the pain others feel, understanding the cycles of grief, and making true dialogue a part of the environment. Unfortunately, there are many personal blocks to dialogue including; passivity, discounting, redefinition and over-detailing. These blocks can be reduced by a leader who acts as a secure base, so that the communication potential between two people is less about fear, and more about inclusion and trust.
From such a position of security, leaders are then able to open avenues for improved dialogue, navigating conflicts where bonds are broken or lacking, and make balanced choices between safety (caring) and risk (daring). The result, is a leader who guides their team through treacherous waters by making sense of the world around them, fostering bonds and showing empathy, minimizing conflicts, and making informed risk/reward decisions based on an understanding of the difficulties change processes mean for people in their organization.
“HR must represent a secure base within the organization to be able to provide this protection, because when the brain feels protected, it’ll shut down that natural, instinctive move to the negative.”

If you missed George’s presentation (or indeed any others), you can sign up on The CHRO Virtual Summit website for free and view it until June 30th!

The 3rd HR Congress Brussels, November 27-28 will feature a selection of sessions that will explore this topic and much more! Make sure you follow The HR Congress Blog and #HRCongress18 to stay posted on all the latest news, updates and content from the world of work!

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