When Everything Changes: The Application of Change Management Principles Amid Crisis Your company was moving along spectacularly until COVID-19 turned everything on its head. First came remote work, then layoffs, and perhaps a shift in your business model. The impact to your team is immediate, frightening and, perhaps, existential. Traditional change management seeks to lead people through a planned change. But COVID-19 has forced unplanned changes and left your employees stressed out and anxious. Your job as their leader is to shepherd them through the crisis. Change management offers a path out of the unforeseen transition. Safety and security will be top of mind for employees, and leaders need to address these concerns first. But looking beyond basic needs, your employees have lost boundaries that they formerly depended on. They are now expected to use new and unfamiliar technologies, all while communication is dramatically changing. As a result of all of this, there is no doubt employee productivity has taken a dip, a normal and well-documented phenomenon during times of major change. Our goal as change management practitioners is to instill the knowledge and ability to help your employees confidently settle into and excel in the new normal. To accomplish this, there are three important actions that leaders must take:
- Develop a vision. Vision offers a picture of the future – one where your company and team are successful and thriving despite the changes imposed by this crisis. Acknowledge the new normal and your company’s place in it, define success, assess what needs to change, and how it will impact your employees.
- Communicate the new vision. Answer the key questions that will be on employees’ minds: Why this vision? What will it mean for your employees? How will your company implement your new vision, including expected employee actions and behaviors?
- Make it stick. Reward and recognize behaviors supporting the new office environment – such as resilience, open communications, and flexibility – and end any protocols that get in the way and are no longer beneficial.
A good place to start is to remove the things that aren’t working in the new normal. For example, everyone working from home poses a significant security risk. Three months ago, relying on workplace information security was a common behavior. With blurred boundaries between home and work, the new behavior is protecting company information and data from the kitchen table and ownership of their frontline responsibilities to protect the company’s crown jewels. As a result, new technologies may be required, some of which will be unfamiliar, even scary to your staff. Preparing your employees for your company’s new remote work model will greatly influence the degree of lost productivity, positioning them for success earlier rather than a sustained drop if employees are left to learn and embrace new technology on their own. Start with delivering the case for change, including how it fits into your new vision. Once people understand why the change is happening, your employees are ready to understand how the change will affect them and for the information and training on how to change. One reason why people resist change is that they worry that they won’t be able to do the new job. You as a leader need to show them that you have a plan to get them the information and skills that they’ll need to succeed in the new environment. After you successfully change the behavior and mindset of your team to the new way of doing things, it’s time to make it stick. Transitions are a big effort and you’ll want to make sure that your people don’t go back to old habits. Make sure that you change your employee incentives to support this new behavior. At Collective Insights, we have applied these principals to support transformational ERP implementations, organizational divestitures, IT system implementations, and cyber security awareness initiatives at Fortune 500 companies to help our clients meet their business objectives. By adhering to the core concepts of change management, organizations can get through their unplanned changes from COVID-19 as a stronger organization. Applying this approach, will help your people do their best work by increasing their engagement and productivity.