What Coronavirus Has Taught Us About Organisational Change

Illustration by Deemak Daksina via Dribbble
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Perhaps the most valuable lesson the pandemic has taught us is that when times are changing rapidly, it is the agility of business change that can mean the difference between sink and swim.

New companies will always have plenty of learning to do, but what about those around for years, large corporations or small businesses that faced changes in regular times? Did they utilise what they learned to effect change? Or, did they fall to the wayside because they were unable to adapt to emergent change as well as others?

It seems even in government, lessons should have been learned from the past so that changes required due to coronavirus went better than they did. It seems change, whatever the driver, has inherent difficulties that we find hard to overcome.

The Biggest Problems With Change

With companies failing to meet expectations in approximately 70% of their attempted change programs, we seek to identify why change is so complex. And it seems three key reasons are responsible.

  1. Change efforts start too late
  2. The approach is too rigid
  3. They ignore or don’t look for evidence on what is and isn’t working

Relating this to Covid-19 responses is relevant because it can be seen that responses have varied enormously from one country or region to the next. Even when the virus path has been experienced in an area and handled well, others seem reluctant to learn lessons. They are choosing instead to reinvent the wheel and fail to learn lessons from others.

Is The Change Path Too Strict?

Change is often thought to need a planned itinerary, with the steps to be followed laid out in various degrees of detail at the outset. It has a beginning, end and measurable steps detailing the plan from start to finish.

This may have worked previously (although recent figures suggest perhaps not). Still, this way of working is now outdated and the reason behind many failures experienced when companies refuse to change.

Fluidity in Change

We can solve much of the problems of number one above by creating a program of fluid changes, small initiatives at a faster pace that leads to the completion of a change.

The Agile pm change methodology is now overtaking the more traditional methods for change adopted by processes such as the waterfall method.

This way allows businesses to continually review progress, make changes as they work through the and most importantly, doesn’t start out with all the answers and solutions defined.

Flexibility from the top

As for number 2, senior leaders must not be afraid to be flexible. Being prepared to change timetables and routes as many times as necessary will benefit you in the longer term.

Continuously assessing progress and effectiveness based on facts, information, data and feedback is not a weakness. In fact, it is a sign of confidence in allowing the process to succeed.

Change requires direction, but much in the way of setting off driving and meeting an unexpected roadblock you had no idea about, you can make changes as you go and still reach your destination.

Successful leaders will understand the need for vision and realise the need to be flexible, allowing time for changes to settle. Impatience, changes on a whim, and understanding that you cannot control every outcome or manage absolutely everything is one of the biggest misconceptions for many change managers and the role they are expected to fulfil.

Some catastrophes cannot be anticipated. COVID-19 alone saw many businesses face some of the most significant unprecedented changes to how they operate literally overnight. Naturally, some will have found this more straightforward than others.

Those that had the most notable success will be those working already in an environment that is accustom to change. Those more agile, with strategies in place that support all change, sudden or otherwise, will have a workforce that copes with change more readily.

The key to change success is as much down to workforce perception as the process used. Ensuring that an organisation can adapt rapidly to changing circumstances has become known as agile and is something we all should strive for.

A path of continual learning

The pandemic has shown us that we require both human and artificial intelligence to pursue constant learning and adapt to changing realities.

The most successful organisations understand and use data and analytics, feedback and assessments to keep a close eye on progress, the efficiency of the new measures and their ability to ensure they integrate and continue.

In today’s world, a post mortem at the end is no longer the best way to use the data and analytics available for project management. Instead, they should seek to replace them with instant assessments and identify immediate changes necessary along the route.

Using AI and human feedback can set the next step in the game plan. We can overcome the obstacles of number three above if we become more fluid.

Leadership

Organisations need to ensure that the leaders are the right ones to lead change. Being a good manager doesn’t necessarily make for a good project manager or change leader. Change management courses can help a business create leaders with the skills required to manage change successfully and be more agile.

A skillset combining soft and hard skills, communication, empathy, making tough decisions when needed, and managing conflict is critical to a leader’s chance of success.

Senior leaders calling for change must also play their part in the process. They must embrace the need to change their management style. Often they understand the need to try new things but fail to lead in a way that supports their understanding.

Communication is vital to foster buy-in, organise teams comprising individuals with the skills needed to reach success, and influence others to support and help.

Learning how to manage change digitally can help businesses bring together all of the elements for successful change management. Whilst it is not the solution, it can be a tool that drives it.

Conclusion

Coronavirus hasn’t taught us anything we should not have learned before. What it has done is perhaps now speeded up the pace at which we must understand it to guarantee success in the future. We should seek to review our plans; agile workforces have highlighted the need to increase communication.

Teamwork requires more work than ever before as remote workforce levels continue to grow and are highly likely never to return to pre-covid levels. Leaders who embrace and facilitate their businesses to adapt will see a brighter future than those wishing to return to how life was pre-covid.

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