· 2 min read · Features

Managing change is at the heart of the HR role

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"Management that wants to change an institution must first show it loves that institution," the broadcaster and journalist Sir John Tusa once remarked. This is certainly true, but for change to happen, the buy-in and active involvement of every manager is needed, not just those at the top. So how can you win the love of your middle managers?

In the current economic climate, we're all coping with enormous levels of change. I believe managing change is at the heart of HR's role, and there remain some fundamental rules for us to follow when facing this. By doing so, HR will play a significant role in easing our businesses through this difficult patch and beyond.

At Lloydspharmacy, we kicked off our most recent change programme in 2007, in response to radical changes in our marketplace. The Government announced an increase in the levy on the pharmacy sector, effectively removing money from the supply chain, as well as opening up the sector for more involvement from supermarkets and large retailers.

But while this could be seen as a threat, the changing structure and nature of the healthcare sector as a whole presented an exciting new opportunity for pharmacy. The move of primary care out of hospitals and into the community has resulted in the opportunity for the sector to offer a wide range of new healthcare services to customers, such as diabetes testing, medicine usage reviews and cholesterol screening. It has also meant up-skilling our 2,500 pharmacists who are spread out across the country.

After we had restructured and developed our staff to better reflect the new marketplace, we instigated another huge shift in our business: putting the customer squarely at the centre of everything we do. This move has not been easy, but in two years we managed to improve our customer service scores phenomenally - we've recently been recognised by the Institute for Customer Service.

The only way we could have implemented these changes successfully - to start offering new services - was with the engagement and buy-in of our middle management layer. In this case it was the senior pharmacists and regional managers in our business. For them our messaging was crucial; if we had asked them to simply sell more stock, they may have disregarded all attempts to change the business.

The challenge for us was to present these huge industry-wide changes as a way for employees to improve the healthcare service we give customers. Engaging appropriately with our pharmacy staff got them firmly behind these changes. Our role was to help them understand how the new skills and services they were being asked to deliver would ultimately mean a greater role for pharmacists in healthcare provision, alongside GPs and hospitals.

Working in a joined-up way across functions and having top-level support is critical for any change project. Change happens across the business as a whole, and every part needs to be involved.

Creating a clear vision for people to get behind is just as important - and not just as a short-term goal. Help people understand why change is happening, and the chances are they'll do it better than you could ever expect. Managers and staff at every level will take responsibility and genuinely work towards making this vision happen.

But in order to do this there are two other items managers need: the tools to make change happen and a common language to facilitate it. Change does not happen independently - creating a business framework and culture that fosters collaboration will go a long way. During the change process, and in the time afterwards, teams will be required to work together who may not have done so before; supporting them with a consistent language and culture provides a platform for them to achieve great things, unhindered by barriers.

Be upfront about change. Honesty goes a long way with managers and staff, and with a turbulent forecast for the next year, there will be no let-up.

Fiona Morgan HR and change director at community pharmacy group Lloydspharmacy. Meet Fiona and find out more at HR magazine's People Strategy Forum