The HR manager as change agent: Evidence from the public sector

Kerstin Alfes*, Catherine Truss, Jas Gill

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Prior studies have suggested that one of the main roles of a strategic human resources department is the management of change. Whilst there have been a considerable number of prescriptive recommendations about how human resources departments should go about this, there has been little empirical research that explores exactly the kinds of roles that Human Resources departments play in day-to-day practice in managing change programs. Such evidence as there is suggests that rhetoric has moved ahead of reality, with many human resources functions playing a very limited role in managing change. This article reports on the findings of a qualitative study of the role of the human resources function in managing change in two public sector organizations in the UK. It is argued that human resources functional contributions to managing change can be analyzed along two axes which capture the degree of proactivity of the human resources department in managing both the content and the process of change. This gives rise to four potential human resources roles: Change Driver, Responsive, Change Focused and Human Resources Focused. Two case studies illustrate alternative approaches along these two dimensions. Hence, for human resources departments to play a strategic role in managing change, they need to adopt a proactive approach along both dimensions and not just one. The article builds on prior research into change agency within a planned, functionalist approach to organizational change, and contributes to debates around the management of micro-level change processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-127
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Change Management
Issue number1
Early online date26 Feb 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

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