HR: Motor for organisational
organisational development

In nature, it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who adapt best to change. The same applies to organisations undergoing transformation. HR can be a key driver of change - if organisational development is also considered.

Organisational resilience - the art of continuously transforming oneself through targeted organisational development (OD) and emerging stronger from every learning step - means vitality through adaptability. OD is complex and can be compared to a brilliant-cut diamond: It is the balanced cut of its complex, multi-layered structure that makes it sparkle and makes it so valuable. In order to change an organisation, it is also important not to work on just one aspect, but to consider how each aspect interacts with the others.

Simply adapting hard dimensions such as structures, processes, roles, governance and systems of organisations is often not enough to bring about noticeable changes in day-to-day operations. Skills, leadership and collaboration are also required to effectively implement these changes in the organisation and embed them sustainably.

At a time when strategies often become obsolete before the organisation can adapt, the corporate culture that is lived becomes a point of orientation. Purpose, values and culture thus become the foundation of resilient organisations. These elements are interdependent aspects of OE. For example, the introduction of a matrix structure would most likely fail if the focus were solely on adapting the organisational and operational structure and governance and neglecting important factors such as leadership, collaboration, communication and change management. Similarly, a pure focus on individual empowerment may be insufficient if a company wants to change attitudes and skills through learning initiatives and the development of managers and employees in order to promote innovation. At the same time, it would certainly be necessary to adapt organisational structures and revise incentive systems.

OE encompasses a wide range of events and initiatives, from structural, procedural or systemic adjustments to leadership and cultural changes, which often take place in parallel or in quick succession and affect all levels of an organisation (from the individual and team to the department and the entire company). HR is a critical success factor in all of these OE processes, whereby the influence and contribution of HR depends on the maturity of its function and the available resources:

Maturity level 1: The supporter
Maturity level 2: The administrator
Maturity level 3: The service provider
Maturity level 4: The (strategic) consultant
Maturity level 5: The designer

Effective role for HR

Several key factors are crucial to successfully positioning HR as a driving force in the OU. Firstly, HR must have clearly defined roles, responsibilities and powers that are coordinated with the management and known throughout the organisation. This strengthens HR's ability to act and enables a proactive and authoritative approach. The corresponding organisational structures should be designed in such a way that they optimally support HR's mandate. Partnership and networking with the business units are also essential. As OE can affect the entire organisation as well as specific sub-areas, it is essential that HR is recognised and valued in its role. Close collaboration with top management, especially during the strategy development phase, is beneficial.

HR should see the business units as drivers and provide support. The competences and mindsets within HR vary depending on the role and level of maturity. The empowerment of HR is of great importance and is supported by proven formats and training programmes. HR should also have standardised tools and methods that enable OE to be designed systematically and efficiently. These tools support the consistent management and development as well as the evaluation of their effectiveness and ensure the quality of OD across different teams and regions. Finally, the scaling of products, measures and initiatives can be done effectively through the effective use of change agents or HR business partners who act as multipliers within the organisation.

An organisation needs to be flexible and dynamic in order to survive and thrive in the long term. Properly calibrated and equipped, HR is the key player in this process, not only serving the immediate needs of the organisation, but also driving its sustainable development and success.

Practical example: Cultural change in a global industrial group

A global industrial group had to adapt its corporate culture to a new growth strategy in order to promote more dynamic working methods and faster decision-making. The challenge was to adapt the group's structural matrix organisation to the core processes. The active involvement of managers and employees was crucial to the success of the cultural initiative. An interdisciplinary team of organisational development, HR, communication specialists and a project office led the initiative. Specialists from Performance Management and Learning & Development provided support depending on the topic. Cultural change requires comprehensive organisational adjustments and is only possible with strong HR support.


The company proceeded as follows in individual phases:

Phase 1: Momentum and positive narrative

Development of a motivating narrative "We can become even stronger", involvement of company management, organisation of communication events via various channels to raise awareness.

Phase 2: Structural adjustments

Implementation of structural adjustments to implement the new culture, optimisation of core processes for more efficient decision-making, integration of the culture into HR processes and evaluation systems.

Phase 3: From the initiative to the overall organisation

Systematically integrating the new culture into everyday working life, anchoring the values in projects and creating a network of change agents to promote the culture.

Conclusion: Only with strong HR!

Cultural change requires comprehensive organisational adjustments and is only possible with strong HR support. HR, organisational development and communication are central to content development, while implementation requires a collective effort from all those involved.

This article was first published (only in German) in the 03 | 2024 issue of the Human Resources Manager with a focus on branding.

Curious about how you can strengthen the role of HR in organisational development? Get in touch with us!
Thekla Kovacev-Schmidt
Thekla Kovacev-Schmidt
Associate Principal
Nadeshda Kreya
Nadeshda Kreya
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