June 21, 2022

How to Embrace Change Management to Build a Liquid Workforce

Change management is a big concept and an even bigger undertaking, especially in the world of talent management.

We talked with Mary Faulkner, Principal at human resources consulting firm IA, about how we have to rethink the future of work, especially when it comes to liquid team building.

The concept of liquid teams continues to build momentum. Instead of building a static team, organizations would build and dismantle teams on a project basis, placing talent where it’s most needed at the right moment.

As a talent strategist and problem solver, Faulkner helps organizations optimize their HR practices to take a more future-forward approach. She specializes in teaching people how to transform their organizations from within and advocates for a liquid team-building approach.

Read on to learn more from Faulkner about the change management needed to better optimize the workforce of tomorrow. (Ed note: Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity.)

Going ‘Liquid’: Building and Blending the Ideal Teams

Work is more dynamic than ever before. To handle this shift, people need to come together — and then come apart — to match their skills with critical projects. This “liquid” workforce challenges the mindset that static teams get built and stay that way. 

The big question many organizations have is when a project is over, where do those people go?

Faulkner says the best organizations find a new place for them. Today’s leading organizations match people to the work that needs to be done, that’s interesting to them, and makes the most of their skills. 

There is one industry that has embraced and optimized the liquid workforce: Entertainment. People come together at different stages to develop any major production and disperse when it’s done.

Faulkner says she anticipates a future where more companies will start to follow the same pattern. 

But what about the mindset that a liquid workforce that includes contingent hiring will be harder to maintain and manage? 

“Part of that is bias, that belief that a full-time employee is worth more than someone who may be a gig employee,” Faulkner says. “Guess what? Everyone’s a gig employee. Nobody has employment for life. We’re pretty much all at-will, right?”

It’s time to reskill managers to rethink how they lead workers — it’s about every worker’s skills and how that fits into teams’ needs and evolves over time. And HR should have a strong role in sourcing and vetting both the full-time and contingent workforce, and pinpointing where they should move next. 

Why Learning Agility Matters as a Skill

Transforming an organization isn’t about bringing in a new group of people into a static space. It’s about allowing them to make change. 

Faulkner says that too often organizations will hire change-makers, but then not be open or willing to let them make change. 

That’s counterproductive because if you don’t let your people use their skills, they’ll quickly get frustrated and move on. 

One of the easiest, fastest ways to make change? Hire smart people and empower them to make the appropriate calls when it comes to most day-to-day decision-making.

“One of our key core tenants is why wait? If there’s something that you can change immediately just change it,” Faulkner says. “You don’t need a big thing. If you’re in the middle of a process mapping and you identify somebody doesn’t have access to something that they should have, and you can fix it right then and there just do it. That doesn’t require any approval. So take advantage of those quick wins.” 

The Right Approach to Change Management

Too often, Faulkner says organizations are quick to blame the technology or want to invest in a new HCM before they know what they need. “When we do the work with them and we look at it, it’s not the HCM that’s the problem,” she continues. “It’s everything that’s happening outside the problem. So let’s talk about that.” 

Acknowledging that a system’s processes are broken is the first vital step. What comes next usually involves changing one — or many — ways in how the organization functions.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of organizations that just don’t have a change management methodology baked into how they work,” Faulkner says. “So if you find yourself constantly changing, but you don’t have the change methodology to help support people through that change, all you’re going to feel is chaos.”

Disruptions of any kind can be awkward for employees. Faulkner says if an organization is seeking a major transformation, it’s key to find the big reasons why it’s needed and thoroughly explain that to your people. 

To implement that change, the cadence of the work and milestones need to be in lockstep and clearly mapped and defined throughout the entire process. There also needs to be impeccable communication within the project team itself. 

It’s about making sure everyone is engaged at the same time, informed, and supportive of the change.

“Sometimes when we set up programs with organizations, they want to think of change management as its own separate work stream,” Faulkner says. “And yes, it is a separate team, but it’s not a separate workstream. 

“[Change management] is threaded throughout every single thing that’s happening. So make sure your change management is embedded into everything you’re doing.”

This conversation with Mary Faulkner came from our podcast The New Talent Code, practical insights for empowering change agents in HR. 

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