Even before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, organisations and their leaders faced enormous challenges including technological change, quickly changing consumer needs, and a reorganisation of the global economic order. COVID-19 exacerbated the turmoil, generating supply chain disruptions and accelerating the war for scarce talent.

Many stakeholders are affected by transformational change, including the organisation’s owners or shareholders, managers, employees, suppliers, regulators, and, most importantly, customers. An organisation functions through implicit and explicit collaboration between stakeholders. Different stakeholder groups often have different aims and interests in the transformation process. It may be difficult to gain enthusiastic support for change unless the disagreements are exposed and reconciled. As a result, multiple stakeholders’ interests must be considered during the change process (Cummings & Worley, 2015).

What is organisational transformation?

Organisational transformation is a process using business strategy and change management to move the organisation from where it is currently to a desired state. Organisational transformation is a systematic and revolutionary type of change which may include an reshaping their strategy and design elements to have an impact on things such as culture and performance. Organisational transformation is usually triggered by internal or external disruptions. The transformation programme is then initiated by executives and line managers. It creates key learnings and establishes a new paradigm (Cummings & Worley, 2015).

Increased global competition and the ongoing economic downturn are causing many businesses to rethink their operating strategies and structures, downsize, merge, or become leaner, more efficient, and adaptable. With this in mind, we ask ourselves what role should Human Resource (HR) professionals play in organisational transformation?

Human Resources as a key enabler of organisational transformation

Human Resources is a significant transformation agent and advisor to executives. Here are four key areas where HR plays a critical role in facilitating organisational transformation and bringing it to fruition:

1. Talent Management

Part of the HR function is to determine what the workforce’s specific learning needs are. HR ensures that leaders obtain the necessary training to be more effective in driving change and that all employees can enhance their abilities in relevant areas during an organisational transformation. Employees require new skills and knowledge to modify their behaviour. HR can find training partners and solutions to meet these needs as the company grows. To achieve long-term behaviour change, HR may assess and select an enterprise-wide solution that includes coaching, targeted skill-building, and training reinforcement.

2. Communication

Effective communication is essential for organisational transformation to succeed. HR plays a key role in ensuring that everyone involved has the information they require. HR also facilitates workplace communication by ensuring that suitable feedback loops are in place so that employees may voice their opinions and ask questions. HR may promote organisational transformation by improving two-way communication.

3. Progress and Feedback

HR assists in the development, implementation, and monitoring of the change agenda, keeping leaders informed and assisting those who stray off track to get back on track. As organisational transformation begins, different functions and teams will have varied experiences. HR is well-positioned to track each team’s progress and ensure that implementation is uniform across departments and functions. HR experts can see each team’s development with clarity and provide comments that will help managers drive their teams more successfully.

4. Talent Management

HR must ensure that each stage of the HR lifecycle, including recruitment, performance management, reward and recognition, is aligned with the transformation’s goals during an organisational transformation. People have more clarity about performance goals and possibilities for progress when talent management initiatives are connected to the new situation of the business.

HR should be at the centre of any project that affects employee thinking and behaviour as business partners and advisors. As a result, HR’s involvement in organisational transformation should be to ensure that staff have the tools and resources they need to comprehend the need for change and accept responsibility for their part in making it a success. HR assists executives in instilling new values across the organisation and supports employees at every stage of the HR lifecycle.

Executives as the leaders of organisational transformation

Executives remain the initiators and primary drivers of organisational transformation. They determine when large-scale change should be executed, what the change should be, how it should be implemented, and who should be in charge of it. They oversee setting the vision and driving the change. HR should serve them as a key enabler.

You can have the greatest HR interventions in place to manage the change, but transformation starts with leaders. Change refers to the creation of a new system, which necessitates the presence of leadership. According to Cooper (2016), it is estimated that only 30% – 50% of change agendas meet their desired outcome. The lack of a defined change management program and lack of strong leadership accounts for the high failure rate of change projects. Employees are looking to their executives and senior managers for leadership and guidance. Change may be hindered if influential individuals in the organisation do not support it and do not put effort to maintain momentum for change (Cummings & Worley, 2015).

Everyone playing their part

Many organisations wish to push the role of organisation transformation on the HR function; however, it is important for everyone to play their part as appropriate to their role. Executives oversee setting the vision and supporting organisational change, with HR serving as a critical enabler of change. Without the vision set at the top, the role of HR risks becoming almost obsolete.

Recognising that employees need and want guidance from their leaders, can help executives. These are the people who can effectively champion change initiatives. According to research and experience, the more they do this, the more likely their organisational reforms will be successful and long-lasting (Wilder, 2013). Ultimately it comes down to “leaders must manage the change, or it will manage them” (Deshler, 2021). HR will be with them every step of the way.


Cherie Mitchell

University of the Western Cape


Cooper, A. (2016). Why Leaders Need to Lead Change, Not Just Manage It. https://www.cgsinc.com/blog/business-leaders-change-management

Cummings, T.G., & Worley, C.G. (2015). Organization development and change (10th ed). United States of America.

Deshler, R. (2021). The Role of Leadership in Change Management. https://alignorg.com/the-role-of-leadership-in-change-management/#:~:text=Leaders%20must%20manage%20the%20change,stakeholders%20and%20clients%20are%20met.

Eagle’s Flight. (n.d.). The Role of Human Resources in Organizational Transformation. https://www.eaglesflight.com/resource/the-role-of-human-resources-in-organizational-transformation/

Red Hat. (2019). Understanding organizational transformation. https://www.redhat.com/en/topics/organizational-transformation

Whatfix. (2021). 4 Types of Organizational Change, Explained. https://whatfix.com/blog/types-of-organizational-change/

Wilder, B. (2013). Who Should Lead Change?. https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/change-management/article/22009749/who-should-lead-change

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