Australia HR team gets to the heart of change leadership

In June 2016, the human resources (HR) team in Australia became the first in ABB to “go live” with a more agile way of working. The change, driven by the company-wide ‘white collar productivity’ program, involved a partial handover of responsibilities to the new ABB shared-service center in Bangalore, India. While the transition would inevitably create some uncertainty around reassignments and departures, HR leaders were determined to get it right.

To do so, they opted to work with, rather than downplay, the emotional dimensions of the change. The result was a considered, coordinated approach that aimed to keep everyone informed and part of the process. More than six months in advance, leaders began to communicate about the transformation while encouraging direct feedback. They organized one-on-one conversations to explore the career-related and personal implications of the new structure. Teams in both locations also worked together to ensure no experience or knowledge would be lost.

Efforts to make the transition more transparent did not go unnoticed. In the first wave of The Pulse – a new survey tracking the HR community’s perceptions of the transformation – 95% of the Australia HR respondents agreed that the change and its effects were being openly discussed. In addition, the Australia team had the most favorable views of the change globally, with 77% considering it an enabler of positive change.

The open, constructive work environment was palpable. The key, according to Rebecca Roberts, Country HR Manager, Australia, was the whole team’s level of engagement. “I think being actively involved in the transition, for example by helping train and coach our new colleagues in Bangalore, made a difference. It also allowed people to recognize their own talents. Some ended up leaving the company while others took on new roles, but everyone got experience and insight that could be carried over into new opportunities.”

HR leaders ensured that the new teams continued to be supported after the changeover. As Sylvia Hill, HR Services and Transformation Lead, put it: “Success does not occur overnight and is an ongoing process.” Leaders’ commitment both to the change and to the people affected by it has set a high standard for change leadership at ABB.