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Essential HR skills (part 2): 12 things every HR programme manager should know


Starting a new project or programme can be exciting and challenging, but after the initial excitement it’s important to keep the momentum going. Keep these tips handy and stay on the straight and narrow!

  1. Develop a common vision of the goal/outcome of the programme – and makes sure everyone buys into it. The vision for the programme drives all the activity within it and must be linked to an overall business objective/driver to make it both viable and commercial. Communicate the vision widely and ensure that all the programme activities are linked back to it. If your HR programme runs over the long term, it is also useful to provide a periodic check that the vision and programme objectives remain appropriate and viable in light of any wider changes in the external environment.
  2. Enlist HR and business sponsors who believe in the vision. Even if the programme is delivering an HR focused change, it will inevitably affect the business beyond the boundaries of HR operations.  Sponsors to the programme must be senior enough in both the HR team and the wider organisation to ensure that the business listens to, and follows, their lead.
  3. Know your stakeholders. Know who your stakeholders are and put yourself in their shoes to understand what their interest is and where their support lies.  Do not expect that senior stakeholders will grant you their support automatically; sponsors will expect to be convinced that the change is one which carries benefits to the business and they may not agree with your initial assessment of the change that is required.  Be prepared to be flexible and work with sponsors to develop a programme of change the business really needs.  This should be done early so you know who does and does not support the change and you can plan how to manage these individuals and groups to keep the programme on track.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate – and then communicate some more. Once you know who your stakeholders are, you must spend time to keep them briefed and on track with the key messages of the programme.  This needs to be ‘the right message, delivered in the right way, at the right time,’ and a good change strategy will determine exactly how the messages change in terms of content and emphasis at different stages of the programme.  Bear in mind also that communication needs to be two way and there must be opportunity for stakeholders and others to provide feedback to the programme that you can act upon.
  5. Manage the change. Be very clear about the changes the programme will bring and understand the impact this will have on all those affected. Use an established change methodology alongside the programme delivery to express the changes in terms of what it means for each of the affected groups.
  6. Use the business case effectively. It is unlikely that any major investment programme would receive the go ahead without a robust business case spelling out the rationale for change, the costs of the programme and the financial benefits. However, whilst return on investment is a critical consideration for achieving project approval, many organisations make the mistake of not carrying the business case through to programme delivery. A good business case keeps the programme commercially focused and ensures that you only spend time on activities that deliver benefit. Without this, it is easy to lose track of benefits delivery and water down the effectiveness of a programme or embark on extensions to the scope of the programme that do not deliver any sound commercial benefit.
  7. Ringfence resources. Any project or programme is doomed unless it has access to the right team members with the right skills and knowledge with enough time allocated to work on the programme. There will always be a conflict between the demands of a day job and a change programme so negotiate the balance between programme work and the day to day role. If needed, second individuals out of their regular roles and backfill where necessary.
  8. Plan up front. Spend time at the start of the programme planning with the team what has to be done by when so that there is a clear understanding of the activities and deliverables and that each team member understands their roles and responsibilities and what the dependencies are. Ensure you build enough time into the plan and provide realistic timescales for key activities. 
  9. Build and lead the programme team. Often programme teams are brought together from multiple sources with staff from HR, from other business areas (such as IT) and from third party suppliers. As the Programme Manager, spend time to consider how you will build and lead a high performing, integrated team that is focused on delivery of the common goal – even when the going gets tough.
  10. Transition to business-as-usual. Successful delivery of the programme is not the only thing you need to consider. The legacy and success of the change rests in a seamless transition from the delivery programme into ongoing operations. Start working on the cut over and transition plan as early as possible in the process and ensure that adequate resources are allocated to this task. This may mean a short term increase in resources to manage this stage of the process which will also have a knock on impact on the delivery of business benefits. 
  11. And finally, make sure you close your programme properly with a post programme implementation review to ensure that lessons learned are taken on board and instigate a process to check that the programme benefits are realised.
  12. Lastly, don’t forget the end of project party to celebrate the success of the programme and signal the fact to the rest of the business.

Allan Boroughs and Judith Clark are partners at Orion partners


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