HR as a Change Mentor in ABW Programs


In my previous blog about why ABW is good business for HR, I mentioned three new roles that HR professionals need to assume in this changing world of work: A Strategic Partner, An Employee Sponsor or Advocate, and a Change Mentor.

Taking the third of these, I’ll explain more about what it means for HR as a Change Mentor.

Change is the only constant in business nowadays. The continuous evaluation of the effectiveness of an organisation results in the need for the HR professional to frequently champion change. The ability to successfully execute change strategies, makes HR exceptionally valued. In the modern workplace an important part of the HR role is to consciously help create the right organisational culture, monitor employee satisfaction, and measure the results of organisation initiatives. The ability to link change to the strategic needs of the organization, minimising employee dissatisfaction and resistance to change, is key.

The philosophy of ABW is very much in line with this and seeks to make work places more effective, efficient and aligned with the business objectives. But also hopefully more enjoyable for both the organisation and the employee. So here are the reasons why HR need to assume the role of a Change Mentor in this changing world of work.

(1) ABW is good business for HR

We sometimes see that HR works on their own transformation programs and are not always aware of the link between their programs and the ABW program. Similarly, in some organisations, the ABW program is managed as a separate program of work, not connected to the existing change initiatives. In either case, these organisations miss out on a great opportunity to drive successful business transformation using the ABW programs. Which should be aligned to the business transformation initiatives and strategy, and work as an accelerator to achieving the desired results. An opportunity for HR to be the Change Mentor.

For me, this is one of the biggest reasons why I believe strongly in Activity Based Working and love the work that I do. After spending almost a decade in HR, and in various business change and transformation initiatives, where I was involved in high level organisational change and development projects, I never thought about the actual workplace. But now I understand the connection I am convinced about the potential. When a new workplace has been designed with this intent, the physical environment really is an excellent enabler to drive cultural change in an organisation and to support the desired culture and behaviours. To me, this was a real eye opener.

Change Mentor

(2) A new way of working can drive change

A new way of working program is the ultimate opportunity to drive change for HR and indeed the whole organisation. Starting at the conception stage, key stakeholders define what organisational culture and people’s behaviours are desired…and when the physical environment is built, and very tangibly so, the environment manifests new habits, behaviours and mindsets in users. So they behave in the desired way. This combination is very powerful and contributes hugely to successful change outcomes and ultimately, to achieving business results.

If done well, developing and implementing a new way of working connects different disciplines, makes change tangible and touches the lives of people within the organisation. And if the way you work changes, it also certainly impacts other people interfacing with the organisation; customers, suppliers, students, patients etc. The prize is huge if the concept is designed and implemented well.

(3) Opportunity to build capabilities within the organisation

ABW programs provide HR professionals the opportunity as a change mentor, to develop change management skills. In fact, key to the Activity Based Working philosophy is the belief that change should be managed from within the company and not by external consultants – therefore change management skills need to be developed by everyone involved. To this end, Veldhoen + Company facilitates a process that builds capability, developing a journey and a concept with an organisation for their new way of working program, specific to their needs and desires. In the ABW program, people will experience change and learn how to manage change.

(4) Its never one-size-fits-all

As business strategies and contexts are different for every organisation and industry, the desired organisational culture and behaviours will also vary. Therefore, it stands that the physical environment will need to be different to support an organisation in the best possible way. ABW is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Changing to Activity Based Working is not easy. It takes quite a lot of time and energy, but our experience tells us that the more time and effort spent on change management the more employees are likely to understand, embrace and be more committed to this new way of working.

Given the fact that organisations differ from each other there is no simple “true path” to change management, but there are specific ways to increase the likelihood of success. The lessons learned over the years are very much in line with what HR professionals already know, but are often new to people that are traditionally responsible for the workplace:

  • Don’t focus on the physical design and technology and short-change the cultural issues. Change management is key.
  • Don’t assume that change management stops after the move-in. It begins when the project begins and continues after occupancy of the new building. Keeping the new working culture alive.
  • Don’t assume that since you’ve “told them already” you don’t need to tell them again.
  • Strong integral program management will ensure that there is clarity on the big picture and what business requirements should be met.

In summary

The roles of HR professionals are changing to become pivotal in the role of organisational transformation. ABW is more than a design solution, it is a lever for transformation and a powerful program for HR professionals to align other initiatives to. ABW touches and supports HR’s new roles, and developing and implementing a new way of working has the potential to improve the KPI’s of the HR function and ultimately the business results if it is done well.

We are very keen to support your organisation to go for the big prize. So please do reach out to us for a conversation to explore your challenge.

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