Business leaders have seen many changes to the way they operate this year throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many of which have had a dramatic effect on business operations. Just a year ago no one would have believed what was to come, and there are definitely some lessons to be learned going forward.
Some of these are lessons that we would do well to take into any future change management programs, both planned and emergent.
We have seen many changes already, because of social distancing, transferring to online operations or suddenly having a lack of staff on your premises and adapting where possible to work from home. Change related to the pandemic is definitely not over yet, and change management consultants will need to plan for as many changes coming out of the pandemic as were forced on them going into it.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on employees and given change managers a need to review the way they operate. Managing the process of change has added complications of needing to adapt processes to cope with a potentially large proportion of employees no longer being available in person.
In many organisations, communication will have primarily switched to in writing or via telephone or video calls, when previously they would have called a meeting or stopped by a desk to deal with the situation.
Supporting people through change can be difficult to manage at the best of times. Change managers will already have faced the need to review how they present such changes to their remote staff as well as those in the offices. An increase in the use of video calls and zoom meetings requires more focus than ever before to get to the point and get the job done. There are, however, some good techniques for managing change during COVID and going forward into our new normal.
Keeping everyone fully informed and involved, so that productivity is maintained as efficiently as can be expected within the new regime and employees understand what is expected is key to success. Providing a variety of ways to keep in touch and provide feedback will ensure that different kinds of people are offered access to suitable means to express themselves.
Keeping people focused and involved through structured communication channels, to air views in private or as part of a group will aid productivity. Communication skills development, both your own and that of your team, is likely to become a key feature of success. Being able to convey messages effectively, relate expectations and to illicit responses that are favourable to your requests, could well be the difference between success and failure at a time when we cannot meet in person.
Learning techniques to better prepare you for your next change management meetings can give you a head start in the new remote world we so often now find challenging us.
Not all employees will adjust to changes without help, so offering training and development opportunities can help employees adapt more quickly to the new way of working. If boundaries and expectations are established at the earliest opportunity, in a way that may help them learn and adapt more readily, rather than allowing them to struggle in silence or isolation, the more likely a change is to succeed. Lack of knowledge could damage productivity and leave them feeling unsupported and possibly more resistant to change, negatively influencing the overall change management process.
The wider picture
It is important to not become too wrapped up in the logistical changes that you are forced to make that you forget the bigger picture. Objectives and targets that mattered before are just as important now. For business performance, it is key to work towards these still, whilst also managing the more sudden changes that could threaten to side-track your goals
You may have to face many further changes that you have not seen coming and therefore planning with flexibility will ensure that you are ready. It is okay, more so now than ever, to not have all the answers. After all, a large of extent of the COVID-19 restrictions were forced on us with very little notice and required a flexible and fast thinking approach to manage.
We are most definitely not at the end of this pandemic disruption. Building in a flexible approach to your plans and conveying a need for a fluid approach going forward to those affected by the change management processes will ensure that you foster a culture more accepting of change. Seeking to reduce resistance by creating a team who accept change more readily will ensure your business is better placed when faced with uncertainty.
The kind of changes where we need to ensure a quick response, no time for rigorous or strategic forethought, can be handled more readily if you have a plan for approach in place. It may require some ad hoc architecture and some innovative thinking, the key to success though is being ready for when a change comes. You may not know exactly what or when but will have a strategy in place to cope and ensure that communication channels exist and the protocols are in place form a starting point.
Be flexible in your approach to accept that change is a natural occurrence and part of realigning your business to cope with outside factors. The knock on effect of any planned or emergent change or the sudden, as we know from changes to operations forced by COVID-19, is through being flexible. Learning to adjust the way we work and thinking efficiently, will ensure that your team and business stay focussed and on track.
Learning to work remotely, writing down instead of speaking, having to plan what you want to get across are keys to surviving this new way of working. Plan what you want to say, create an agenda and be realistic on the time it may take.
Do not lose the focus of your overall business strategy and have a crisis management and disaster recovery plan to ensure that whilst you are able to deal with the technical sides of your business and the technology involved, you have factored in the need to keep people connected with each other.
Dealing with change throughout and long after the pandemic may lead to lasting changes we hadn’t forecasted for. With the right approach, your business should be able to weather any storms associated with such change.