Replacing or enhancing your HRM: a change management perspective

Let’s face it, leading organizational change can be rough. Almost all of us, at one point in our lives, have tried to force a change against the behavior of our partner, parents, relatives, children, and we can certainly confirm it was not easy to do so, let alone say we have succeeded. Now imagine, how tough it must be to change the mindset, culture or digital tool usage of a well-established company.

A company where the employees strongly believe a new HRIS will not facilitate their day-to-day activities. Even more, some are convinced that a new tool will make their work a burden for quite a while, until they learn how to properly navigate through the interface. Fortunately, consulting firms offering their expertise in leading change management initiatives do exist and are more than ready to tackle organizational change!


Replacing or enhancing your HRM: The challenge of change management

Studying the topic for more than three decades, scholars, trainers, and consultants, have come to realize that transforming organizations is not an easy task. Connoisseurs have stressed on the importance of changing the organizational culture and employee attitudes before insisting on the adoption of a new HR system, for example. Regardless of the approach, in most organizations, 70% of transformation projects fail (source: Forbes). It is imperative to place high importance on change management – managing the change – an area often neglected or misunderstood by companies.

In recent years, many change management gurus have focused on soft issues, such as culture, leadership, and motivation. Such elements are important for success, but from experience managing these aspects alone isn’t sufficient to implement transformation projects. It isn’t easy to change attitudes or relationships; they’re deeply implanted in organizations and people.

There are many reoccurring factors contributing to a projects’ success, but let’s examine the main 3 factors to take into consideration before tackling a transformation project, whether it is the implementation of SAP SuccessFactors or a new digital tool within your organization: Assess. Plan. Communicate.

Readiness assessment

The concept of any HRIS transformation project, big or small, should always be accompanied by a well-developed preliminary readiness analysis – Is the organization ready? (for an in-depth analysis of the organizational tools, it is optimal to perform a gap analysis, defining the current information system state (if any) vs the desired state).

The main questions to ask here are “Will this be a gradual change or an instant one?” and “How will this transformation affect the way people perform their day-to-day activities?”.

By answering these at first glance simple questions, we can analyze the situation and pinpoint the major challenges that the project team could encounter. The most common challenge being a digitally immature company. One that will understand the “how” of the project with greater difficulty. One that will require employees to learn a wide range of new abilities from computer literacy to performing accurate data entry.

From experience, similar organizations are not well equipped (internally) to sustain a successful HRIS adoption. Even if the project team pulls out a brilliant ROI (return on investment) score, the transformation itself might end up in failure, because the employees are not yet ready for the change. 

This is where change management experts step in and become vital for the overall success. The organization will most likely go through an immense transformation, from using pen and paper to entering data in a cloud-based software, as opposed to an already digitally mature corporation changing from one software to another.

Plan ahead

Prior to beginning an HRIS transformation, it is imperative to have one thing set and defined: a clear change management strategy. A successful strategy is built on three pillars: a change team structure, sponsor identification and risk management.

The team structure identifies the key roles of each change agent involved, their main responsibilities and who they report to inside the project team. Who is the ideal change manager within the team that can take on this responsibility? Are all the project team members already too occupied and overloaded? Will there be a need to externalize the change management team with highly experienced change management consultants?

The second pillar revolves around the development of a sponsorship. A leader inside the organization, who strongly believes in the benefits of the project must be appointed as the sponsor to achieve maximum adoption throughout the organization. 

Their main goal will be to actively support the transformation by working together with the project team to cascade the change. They will act as a facilitator and spokesperson when it comes to resistance or oppositions. The best way to select the ideal change sponsor – choosing a leader directly impacted by the change itself; it will be in their interest to promote the transformation.

The final step is to plan the possible scenarios for resistance and identify risk management tactics. List all possibilities where resistance can occur. Do certain employee functions require more orientation and communication than others? Have there been other group projects that have already encountered resistance at some point before, throughout or after the change? How are management decisions passed down across the organization? 

Answers to similar questions could assist in identifying latent risks and resistance. Preparing ahead for these three fundamental concepts is a key factor in achieving a successful HRIS transformation.


Communication is a term often used, but not given the right amount of importance. Theory wise organizations are aware of the consequences of insufficient communication.

However, many still face difficulties in applying the correct approaches and in ways that are meaningful for the organization. A lack of communication is certain to provoke failure – it is the project team that drives the change, but it is the employees that take on the change. Without communication, the change will be sudden, or taken by surprise, in most cases causing opposing actions.

When considering how to effectively communicate, there are various elements to be considered; the audience, the message channels, the tone and last but not least, the message being communicated. The correct amount of communication shared at the right time to the right audience can be the game changer of the entire transformation. 

Preparing a well detailed communication strategy could assist to plan out these elements. Will you communicate to all employees at the same time or is it better to have a top-down communication approach? Will the communication pass in waves? Will the communication pass through in-person meetings, emails or more interactive tools such as video campaigns? When creating content, it is important to take into consideration the organization’s work culture and readiness to learn, be involved and be successful. Personalizing the message is most likely to reach the audience.

Leading a transformation can be tough. One of the main concerns is not being aware of the silent factors that can influence change management initiatives. Ask ten consultants to name the number one critical factor for their success, and you will most likely receive ten different responses. However, many successful transformations have been through at least one of the aforementioned phases: readiness assessment, well prepared strategy and personalized communication approach.

Elizabeth Alexieva

HRIS consultant


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