The Role of HR in Successful Business Transformation


As organizations continue to grapple with shifting business realities, we discuss the role of HR in implementing a successful business transformation with Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, SVP and CHRO at Symantec.

Establishing the right people practices is essential for any business transformation effort, for ultimately the goal of any organizational transformation is to help people achieve more – build their capabilities, increase engagement, and develop more meaningful connections between purpose and business. Here’s where HR can play a pivotal role in both the transformation process and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the transformation.

We spoke to Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, SVP and CHRO at Symantec about HR’s role in driving successful business transformation and achieving strategic business goals. “First, be clear about the objectives of the transformation, expected outcomes and key measurements for success,” says Amy. Failing to establish clear goals is one of the biggest pitfalls of transformation efforts. Without a clear mission to follow, HR will just end up as extra hands for implementation rather than true partners addressing key change management issues more effectively.

The next step is establishing a central change management team to plan and drive this transformation. These teams would ideally comprise expert navigators who will guide business and functional areas through the transformation. Amy says:

Once you are clear about the problem you are solving, HR, from a process perspective, should set up a strategic and program management team within HR that can create and/or align to work streams related to the transformation efforts. Membership in this team would consist of HRBPs who are driving org strategy, structure and talent consulting, Compensation to address incentives to align to strategy, a Data & Analytics team to understand employee data needs and employee sentiment via Pulse and Alumni Surveys, Talent to address capability gaps, buy/build strategy, organizational health dashboards and overall workforce planning, and Change Management and Employee Comms to ensure change plans are clear, measurable and well-communicated, with closed loop feedback built in along the way. This team should have a strong governance model and operated across the HR Organization and the business to ensure interdependencies are managed and integrated.

HR will also need to work with key stakeholders to craft career paths for people who join the team. A business transformation will create a lot of new roles and change the old ones significantly as the organization redesigns its operating patterns. HR leaders must possess some very specific skills to drive this transformation. Amy shares five must-haves for HR leaders driving this change:

  1. Resilience and Grit: It’s a marathon, not a sprint
  2. Strong relationships with key stakeholders
  3. Strong business acumen and business insights: You must really understand the challenges in the business and you can’t manage this transformation like a Corporate, corner office leader. The best have a commercial sense to their work.
  4. Transparency and authenticity during transformation: There is a lot of uncertainty about the future and job security – so it is incumbent on HR to model the behavior to share as much information when possible and hold the HR team and business accountable to meet milestones communicated to the employees.
  5. Data-Driven insights and decision making:  There will be lots of opinions and anecdotes – use data as the truth teller to influence, to ensure the right problems are getting solved, and to measure engagement and employee sentiment on a regular basis – to name a few ways to leverage data.


In addition to these skills, **HR leaders’ support in identifying and staffing a stable and diverse management core at every level will be crucial to reinforce the changes**. With diversity becoming a business imperative for high-performance organizations today, HR leaders must also take a holistic approach to workplace diversity to sustain and build upon the transformation knowledge base.

Amy’s advice to organizations looking to build a holistic and measurable strategy for workplace diversity is to measure not only the efficacy of diversity representation but also facilitate the right environment that encourages participation of those who are in the ‘margins’. She says, “I think of diversity as an outcome and creating an inclusive environment, where everyone can bring their best selves to work, being the critical driver. This means the HR Organization must not only bring metrics into the discussion related to diversity representation (with an emphasis opening up the pipeline for a bigger addressable talent market), but also facilitate the right environment where there is transparency, collaboration, active, two-way feedback, and leaders who embrace differences and seek input from those who are in the ‘margins.’ It is also incumbent to build your strategy with a direct tie to the business, so it is not an HR program but a business imperative (and ongoing operating mechanism) that will yield better business outcomes. **You not only need to tie D&I to HR practices such as talent acquisition, performance management, development, and promotional practices but also to how the business makes decisions, encourages new ideas, drives innovation, supports risk-taking and builds trust with a strong ‘say/do ratio.’** Lastly, you need to build accountability into the system – numbers yes, but also change efforts that drive real behavioral shifts.”        

Amy’s pro tips on driving D&I into business practices include:

  • Be explicit about recruiting for diversity and a commitment to creating an inclusive environment.
  • Ensure learning opportunities are distributed across team members.
  • Establish consistent interview plans and structure.
  • Gather and consider broad feedback before making a decision.
  • Launch/Join Inclusion Change Teams.
  • Have open conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion with your team.
  • Include diverse inputs and checkpoints when reviewing/building business processes.
  • Curb ‘groupthink’ and ‘confirmation bias.’
  • Seek out vendors and suppliers that commit to diversity and opportunity for all identities.
  • Embed Diversity and Inclusion Actions in all Communications.

Among the most visible outcomes of business transformation are the tools and practices that fundamentally redesign how people do their work and engage with customers and colleagues. When executed consistently, the transformation brings about a new set of cultural norms. **As the guardian of people practices, the HR function is instrumental in sustaining that new culture for the benefit of the organization, its people, and its customers**.