We are certainly looking forward to a time when the articles we write are no longer prefaced with “in light of Covid-19”; however, in light of Covid-19, many organizations are having to rethink their product and service offerings, consider restructuring their organizations, and explore and embrace a new digital environment. As with any change, leaders must adopt agile strategies to meet the novel needs created by a global pandemic.
There is arguably more need for change following the past ten months than in the past decade. With so much at stake, we launch new initiatives at a breakneck pace in hopes of getting ahead in a pandemic-induced recession period. In many cases, the need for change is inexorably tied to how we did business in a pre-Covid world. Systems that worked well for most companies have become outdated and do not work in the current environment. For some industries, the challenges have proven to be too much and have lead many companies to face their mortality, leaving others on the brink of extinction. The need to act fast and act now is the modus operandi of the movers and shakers in today’s business world.
As intrepid business owners and leaders grasp their current situations and consider their business, operations, supply chains, product offerings, and delivery of goods and services, there must be a roadmap to help guide these Covid-weary sojourners to the other side of the pandemic successfully. We hope that this article will serve as such a guide, at the very least a compass to direct you successfully, as we begin to usher in a post-pandemic existence. Here are a few considerations to help you modify and even modernize your approach to change “in light of Covid-19” (we threw that last one in for good measure).
The buzz phrase you will likely hear would compel you to “create a sense of urgency.” There is some veracity to this statement, and even though it is often used, the context in which it is used is sometimes lost or under-inflated. Of course, there is a sense of urgency that comes with change (as if 2020–2021 haven’t created enough urgency), but as we often declare, you have to know where you are going in order to get there. Sadly the change management rules of yesteryear are no longer applicable to a large degree by today’s necessities. The tried and true methods for facing the challenges, the way we are “supposed to,” require us to be flexible. Still, we can hearken back to the old days (pre-Covid) and see one thing was as true then as it is today, declaring a vision. First things first when considering change management is to pick your target. You have to have a goal or vision at the forefront of your change process if you hope to succeed. When developing your vision statement (and we encourage you to write it down), keep in mind that your vision for change is to endure, overcome, and even come out on top. Your vision is your North Star. Your plans should be concise but flexible enough for you to test and adapt while making more minor course corrections along the way. You are at the helm and steer the ship, but what you will need is a crew.
It never fails when a crisis comes along that the key leaders find themselves up to their ears and often treading water. A leader must be aware of the minutia but far enough away from it to see the big picture. They say that “the devil is in the details,” so leaders must refrain from being devils. In other words, don’t get so bogged down by the details that you lose focus on the direction. Instead, leaders must learn the fine art of delegation.
There may not be another person in the company that understands the implications of failure more than you. Still, good leaders surround themselves with good people who are sensitive to the needs of your organization. It is incumbent upon you to empower a group of leaders within your organization to man the oars. You might even consider looking outwards to external experts if you do not have in-house resources to dedicate to your process (an ally, advocate, and professional like Rob Ferguson of Ferguson Interests is a great option).
Having a team or committee to deploy in response to Covid-19 is a great idea, but if history has taught us anything, we need to keep in mind this will not be the first, nor the last time you will need a team like this. It is a good idea, if feasible, to keep your team in the know and well versed in change management so that when (not if) the need ever arises, you have a dedicated team to help row your ship out of tumultuous waters to calmer seas. By feeding your team with knowledge and training in change management, you will find that this team will become more and more proactive (almost clairvoyant) after overcoming a few challenges like the one we currently face.
Many organizations have adopted work-from-home policies and are operating virtually. Having employees out of the office precludes face-to-face meetings with your employees. It limits your ability to cast your vision and elicit support and even champions for your cause. To combat lack of communication, many companies have adopted collaboration platforms to great success. These kinds of resources or too numerous to list and are not the focus of this article; however, tools like Microsoft Teams, Monday.com, Slack are just a few tools for your consideration. Still, giving an open forum through less formal channels may prove more authentic and make dialogue between leadership and employees possible. The idea behind utilizing these kinds of programs is to give you a venue to cast your vision. It is essential then that your leadership engage in these platforms to reassure and, more importantly, provide their presence. Sailors will do their best to keep the boat afloat when they know that their captain is willing to go down with the ship, but they will succeed alongside a captain that is bailing buckets beside them. By engaging in your company’s social platforms (internal or external), you empower your employees to engage with you to meet the onslaught of demands that change produces. In our last installment, we discussed how successful ideas come from amongst the ranks. It may be that you discover more efficient ideas than what you are currently working with by giving ear to everyone from the lowly Seaman to the Admiral.
The best plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, and that is why an agile approach to planning during a crisis is essential. When planning, put your hammer and chisel away; you won’t be putting anything down in stone. Instead, grab a sharp pencil with a good eraser. If we have learned anything, it is that nothing goes according to plan. This is especially true during Covid-19. The idea that vaccinations will quell the pandemic and dwindle to “acceptable” levels is excellent, but ultimately there will be an unexpected twist. In the article “An Approach to Change Management” by Sarah Jensen Clayton, Clayton writes,”
Even projects on short timelines, like the ones many companies undertook to roll out collaboration technologies in the spring, will need to respond to ongoing volatility internally and externally. Against this reality, change managers will need to: Establish ongoing listening mechanisms that allow them to keep a pulse on employee and stakeholder sentiment, welcome changing requirements, even late in the process, and modify change initiatives, or even the change vision itself, to ensure the work continues to be relevant and will deliver value, lean more into the art of change management than the science, making determinations in the moment about which steps and tools are needed and which aren’t likely to add value that surpasses the lost value of delays, Adopt agile practices, such as daily stand-ups, that enable continuous coordination and evaluation of new variables as they surface, use “fast-turn” and informal communications channels to update employees on strategy and what is needed from them, and leverage “sprints” that result in minimally viable change management resources that can be tested and evolved for continued relevance.
These points are beneficial and can serve as tools for evaluating the success of your change plan. They can be applied to just about any example. Perhaps the most recent example of implementing change that certainly underlines the need for agility is the reactionary and necessitated call for employees to work at home. As the tides begin to shift, bringing waves of employees back to work, there may still be an application for the work-from-home model, especially if the results you have encountered point to success. It may be that as you allow for “agile iteration” by bringing back employees in phases, that you use this opportunity to compare outputs from stay-at-home workers against those who are returning. There is no better place to perform an experiment than in a vacuum. When the storm has passed, and we set the mainsail to brighter shores, pull out your pencil again and get ready to challenge norms implemented during the pandemic. Keep in mind that this may merely be the eye of the storm, and moving too quickly away from what works now can be as deadly to business as doing nothing at all.
Finally, it is an excellent time to take stock of performance. Your employees have been rowing steadily since the beginning, and there is no better source of feedback nor a better opportunity to coach than during performance evaluations. Of course, annual or quarterly evaluations should remain consistent, but periodic, incremental evaluations are helpful during times of rapid change. Not only do these evaluations provide you with insights as to the challenges that your employees face, but they allow you to utilize your management teams to evaluate and determine if your crew members are all rowing in the same direction. During times of change, your employees can feel overwhelmed. These evaluations offer yet another opportunity to reiterate your vision and provide coaching or commendation. For employees that have adapted or even excelled during this time, a “thank you” goes a long way, but an incentive beneath the waters of gratitude floats much better. That is, you might consider adopting a rewards program to both congratulate and exemplify employees who rose to the occasion during your crisis. The form that these incentives take is largely up to you or even your board, but both financial and non-financial benefits will likely be welcomed and appreciated by those you employ.
We know that this has been a crow’s nest view of change management, but we trust that it has provided some insights or perhaps served as an idea catalyst for your organization. If you would like more ideas or need assistance with adopting, calibrating, or initiating your own change management process, give us a call. For many of our clients, we are a port in the storm.