Skip to navigation
5 Min Read

4 Tips For Leaning into the Change Facing Every HR Leader

Genevieve Michaels

HR professionals the world over are facing difficult challenges. 83% of HR leaders are expected to do more than they did three years ago, while 82% of them are facing pressures to scale back what they’ve accomplished in that same amount of time. “Do more with less” seems to be the theme for HR in 2024.

And that’s going to mean a lot of change.

In this session of the HR Superstars Summit, Emily Diaz, Vice President, Transform at 15Five spoke with NYT Bestselling Author and #1 Executive Coach Dr. Marshall Goldsmith about change—and how HR leaders can make it their ally. Here are some of the takeaways from this session.

You can watch the full recording of this session here.

Work on your sales skills

“If I need to influence you and you have the power to make a decision, there’s one word to describe you: customer. One word describes me: salesperson.” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, NYT Bestselling Author and #1 Executive Coach

When faced with a change HR can actually affect, we often talk about buy-in: getting executives and other stakeholders on our side. But we rarely talk about the single most important skill that comes with that: sales.

As Marshall put it in this conversation, it’s not the CEO or the executive’s job to buy what you’re selling. It’s your job to sell it. In an environment where you’re already trying to do more with less, your ability to embrace and affect change will depend on your ability to sell someone on your point of view. You need to find out what their objections are—which can only be done with perspective-taking. It’s also about recognizing when the solution you’re proposing doesn’t fit the bill and when you need to accept a change as is.

Spend some time learning from the salespeople in your organization. It’ll serve you well.

Sell it, change it, or make peace with it

“You sell what you can sell, change what you can change, and make peace with what you can’t sell and what you can’t change. Don’t waste your life on what you’re not going to change. Focus your life on what you can change.” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, NYT Bestselling Author and #1 Executive Coach

When you’re facing a change you don’t agree with, your first reaction might be to push back. If you’ve learned to speak the business language of executives and stakeholders—a key skill for HR professionals—you might even know exactly how to make your case.

But even with the best arguments in hand, there are only three things you can do when faced with unexpected change:

  • Sell: Whether you have a better idea or significant evidence that a proposed change won’t work, you need to sell stakeholders on your point of view. Not convince or argue. Sell.
  • Change: If you can’t quite sell a stakeholder on what you think is best, you might still be able to influence their plans towards something more positive. Think of it as gentle nudging, not manipulation.
  • Make peace: If you can’t sell someone on your point of view or change their plans, all that’s left to do is make peace with them. Find the best way to support their decision and turn it into a positive outcome.

Remove the adversarial nature of change

“You, the HR leader, are there to help the CEO achieve corporate goals and objectives. You’re not the ultimate decision-maker on corporate strategy. That is the CEO’s job. You are there to influence, to sell, to make a difference, and to challenge them when appropriate.” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, NYT Bestselling Author and #1 Executive Coach

Organizational change often feels inherently adversarial. Anyone not involved in the decision who’s affected by the change feels like it’s something that’s happening to them while stakeholders feel like they have to force that change through.

As an HR professional, you have a role to play here: eliminating this adversarial element.

You can be the ally stakeholders need by supporting their decisions and helping them have the most positive impact they can. For everyone else at the organization, you can guide them through any legitimate concerns and answer questions they have.

Listen to 95-year-old you

“Imagine you’re 95 and you can go back in time and help your younger self. What advice would the wise 95-year-old you give to help this person be a better HR professional? More importantly, to help this person have a better life? Whatever you’re thinking in that moment, do that.” – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, NYT Bestselling Author and #1 Executive Coach

The single best way to embrace change as an HR leader is to remind yourself of what really matters. Imagining that your 95-year-old self came back in time to give you the only performance review that’ll ever make a real difference is how you do that. All you need to do to channel that wisdom? Ask yourself a question, and imagine what your 95-year-old self would answer.

Let that answer be your guide.

This works whether you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing—in your career or your day-to-day—or trying to figure out if a big organizational change is really worth fighting with the CEO over.

Turn change into growth

Most of us aren’t comfortable with change. We get used to things being a certain way because it’s easy to get better at them when they don’t shift. But things change, and if you don’t learn to lean into these changes and turn them into growth, you might get caught unawares. Just remember to work on your sales skills, learn when to influence and when to make peace, stop seeing stakeholders as adversaries, and ultimately listen to the wisest version of yourself.

As we move through 2024, your ability to lean into change and find opportunities for unexpected growth will make a huge difference in your career.