When Life Gives You Lemons. – Change Management

Adopting a “Post-Pandemic” Outlook

Times are, no doubt, changing, and at a rapid pace, it would seem. The uncertainties that typically come into play during a national election year are significant enough. Still, when compounded with a global pandemic, social unrest, and economic ambiguity, change management becomes even more critical to your company’s effective governance.

Businesses have an uncanny way of adapting to circumstances beyond their control; however, even the best plans rarely survive the first contact with the enemy. The enemy of late has been the aforementioned pandemic, coupled with a tumultuous political season, civil unrest, supply chain disruption, and safety concerns. For the last six months, companies have felt the urgency to adopt new and innovative strategies to cope with the ever-changing business landscape, significantly affected by the disruption COVID-19 has caused. While the hurdles we face may seem overwhelming at times, having a solid plan in place and then working that plan irrespective of the unseen future results may seem like a gamble, but not having a plan of action will, almost certainly, assure failure. As the adage goes, “when life gives you lemons…”. Savvy business leaders understand that change is inevitable, but perspective is typically a one-way street. That is, what you do, and how you react to change can either lead you into an era of success, despite your circumstances or leave you behind the curve in a post-pandemic environment. Having a healthy and positive outlook will lead to a healthy and positive plan of action. Sometimes attitude provides altitude when attempting to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. In fact, the way we speak and the terms we use can and do impact our actions. Those who are adapting best are already viewing their plans from a “post-pandemic” perspective.

“Boards and leadership are starting to look at this as an opportunity,” Tom Kane, national director for organizational change management at RSM US LLP, told directors participating in a Corporate Board Member Institute roundtable discussion on change management held in partnership with RSM. “Is it time to invest in a fundamental change to the organization, such as an ERP technology upgrade or a merger or acquisition? There’s an awful lot of change going on and, in some cases, that can be a strategy accelerator.”

For many businesses, this means adapting to an environment where social-distancing is the new, however temporary, normal. The days of trade fairs and conventions are no longer viable in the current climate. As a result, businesses have to improve their digital playbook and utilize more advanced, technical means to reach their customers through digital sales and marketing solutions. For many companies, these kinds of adaptations enhance their business and their ability to conduct it. A company that once relied heavily on outbound sales may find themselves needing to shift to a more web-centric approach to generating revenue by adopting inbound marketing strategies, offering a remote office environment, engaging in new forms of media and communication, and the list of strategies goes on and on. The critical takeaway here is that regardless of the issue (pandemic, war, economy, etc.), perspective and attitude towards the circumstance can influence the outcome. What might be viewed as an obstacle to business can easily be turned on its head and viewed as a catalyst for positive change, resulting in positive growth.

If They Can Do It You Can Too

In a recent article from GC Services, one of the industry’s largest privately owned business process outsourcing (BPO) solution providers in the United States, with over 8,500 employees, staffed throughout 30 geo-diverse center locations, entitled How One Company Is Moving 4,000 Customer Service Agents to Home During the COVID-19 Crisis, we see a prime example positive change management in action. President of GC Services, Mark Shordock, stated,

“Our focus, like our clients, is providing a quality customer experience while simultaneously maintaining strict security and regulatory compliance. With agents across multiple locations, we quickly determined how to handle the increase in inbound and outbound calls while our people’s lives were in turmoil. Allowing our people to continue to work while complying with the crucial social distancing and shelter-in-place orders has been positive for everyone involved.”

At the onset of the pandemic, Mark, his leadership team, and his clients faced the daunting task of maintaining business as usual. At the same time, strict mandates for sheltering in place were in effect. Add to this the mandates that all “non-essential” personnel restrict themselves from coming to work, and it might seem like insurmountable odds. But this is where having a plan and using the strategy paid off. Shordock and his team immediately deployed their work-at-home initiative across all of their contact center locations. Within ten days, they had 1,200 employees working from home initially, followed by over 3,000 in the following days and weeks. It is forward-thinking like this that has allowed the company to achieve one of its future goals by executing it as a contingency in the current climate.

KAR Auction Services faced its own unique set of challenges. When cut off from the option of conducting an auction traditionally due to social distancing and lock-downs, the company had to make adjustments to their operation to survive. According to one of KAR’s board members, Mark Howell,

“We had a three- to four-year strategy of moving from physical auctions to a digital platform,” he explained. “So, two weeks into this, we started bringing our organization and customers, who were rooted in legacy processes, through that migration process.”

These are just a couple of examples of how strong leaders face change, make a plan, work the program, and come out on the other side much better than their competitors who fail to engage in change management. But it is more than just making a plan when people are involved.

The Human Factor

When you consider the challenges that employees have faced during this pandemic, we have to be cognizant of the human factor. All of the necessary changes require buy-in from an already exhausted workforce. To combat “change fatigue,” communication is critical. Your board can help management who find themselves in survival mode to focus on the employees they manage and their needs during this season of change that the world finds itself. Again, it is about perspective. We can view 2020 as the worst year ever, or we can look at it from the perspective of how close our teams became; how we took a unified approach to overcome the difficulties; and how we adapted by coming up with innovative strategies and processes to not only survive but to come out the other side, better for having experienced the ordeal. Just keep in mind that your company has real people who have real concerns, and the more you engage, communicate with, and lean on your employees for innovations, the more they will feel like a part of the solution. They will be less likely to feel overwhelmed by the circumstances we face collectively.

The Only Thing Consistent Is Change

Navigating the new world is not easy, and the way things look, it might not get any easier. Change management is a discipline that will not diminish even in a post-pandemic world. The need to plan and create contingencies is ever-present, and these changes could very well prove to lead the way to the future of how companies operate.

Still, “…when things normalize, and the change imperative fades, directors are concerned that some of these hard-won gains will be lost, as boards resume regular meeting schedules and levels of involvement and companies drift back into business-as-usual operating mode.”

The only thing consistent in this life is change. You can embrace it and adapt, or you remain unmalleable and get left behind. The need for constant evolution in business is everpresent, whether a pandemic is or is not. In other words, we will always have difficulties that require forward-thinking measures to overcome. Your best resources are all around you, in the form of your employees, your board, and even your customers. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. We can write off 2020 as a year that should have never been, or we can embrace it as the year of invention and innovation, as we pulled together to change the landscape of business for many years to come.

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