We saw how change leaders helped their organizations leverage disruption during the pandemic to drive a sense of urgency for easier change enablement. Here are the lessons we learned.
Change professionals identify and create urgency for organizational change. We help people understand why they need to change behaviors within a specific timeframe because people support organizational change when they can relate to it and understand the urgency. The turning point between resisting and supporting a change is when people recognize the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).
Aligning people with a change and gaining their support for it is key to its success. COVID-19 created an urgency that people immediately related to, understood and supported. Because of this, people instantly aligned and engaged with the necessary changes. They wanted to learn more about what it meant to them and their world. Change and business leaders jumped in to help support this desire for knowledge and action.
We realized three beneficial outcomes from the urgency and alignment that occurred during the peak of the pandemic:
- The speed of adoption for new ways of working increased,
- People interaction models shifted — the way people interacted with their coworkers and colleagues shifted to be more flexible and accommodating, and
- Leader communication cadences were more frequent and imbued with a novel empathetic and real tone.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these outcomes.
1. Increased Speed of Adoption
The speed of change drastically increases when you have people’s support, and they align around the need for the change.
Workers and working environments shifted overnight thanks to COVID-19. For millions of people, everything shifted to a new reality in one day — a historical change event. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, leaders, managers, employees and customers found themselves interacting in very different ways, spaces and times. For the first time, change leaders didn’t have to manufacture urgency – the urgency was real.
Businesses determined how to remain effective and efficient, with large percentages of their employees working remotely, many for the first time. We watched as:
- Grocery store leaders learned how to stay open and keep communities fed while also keeping their staff safe.
- Restaurant leaders enabled new ways of ordering and delivering food without direct customer contact.
- Transportation services worked to safely transport essential workers while also keeping their staff and commuters safe.
- Business leaders learned how to work with their employees and customers remotely while demonstrating their concerns for the well-being of their employees and their families.
As soon as people and organizations formed new ways of working, governmental rules and guidelines shifted, and people had to rethink how they worked, yet again. Effective change enablement helped people continuously adopt new behaviors with lightning speed by focusing on the following three key areas:
- Explaining why their companies were asking people to change and behave in different ways,
- Developing and iterating on new strategies for responding to different ways of working, such as the flexibility needed across teams and team members,
- Helping leaders understand how to help their employees shift behaviors all with a mentality of kindness and empathy.
These techniques started to become ingrained in leader behaviors. It will be important to leverage these behaviors for future change while we continue to migrate the new pandemic-experience landscape.
2. Re-Imagined People Interaction Model
Another beneficial impact was the compulsory re-imagining of how people work together.
People unexpectedly and immediately began working from home, creating makeshift desks from kitchen tables, bedroom dressers, living room sofas, and more. This was a major shift for a lot of people. In addition to working remotely, many were juggling family needs while trying to find a quiet place to work.
Because people were wearing multiple hats simultaneously – employee, caregiver, teacher – sometimes, people weren’t available for conference calls. Also, people could no longer walk over to their coworker to chat about a challenge they were facing, or to talk about a project’s next steps, or to just say “hi!”.
Because of the shift to remote working, differences in interactions and managing personal situations, companies and people needed to understand how they could work together effectively to get things done. To enable flexible interaction among employees and maintain working relationships, companies relied on technology. They began heavily using collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams – some of which were new to their employees. Technology was key to helping people interact while continuing to keep companies successful.
We saw change leaders help people adapt and shift to new ways of interacting to maintain relationships and get work done. Shifts requiring change expertise included:
- Different ways of working and work schedules
- New collaboration technology
- Unexpected, random, and uncontrollable interruptions (kids, dogs, deliveries, and so on).
As we shift and consider how we return to work, these experiences will help define our future working relationships.
3. Frequent and Empathetic Communications for Better Change Enablement
Change leaders worked with senior leaders to rapidly develop communication strategies and craft empathetic, transparent messages they delivered with cadences not previously seen. Weekly or bi-weekly communication schedules became standard at the outset of the pandemic.
Also, change and business leaders learned how to use various communication delivery mediums. Virtual meeting technology, email, text, telephone, U.S. mail, and more to help deliver key messages through channels that worked best for people.
In the pre-COVID world, creating a communication strategy was relatively systematic, but getting leaders to implement it could always be a little tricky.
During the pandemic, change enablement leaders worked tirelessly to stay abreast of the latest guidelines and rules to ensure they could keep their employees apprised of what was happening, the impact on them, and what their companies were doing to support them and their personal situations. Leaders asked their change and communications teams to help drive these important communications rapidly.
Leaders, like employees, recognized the urgency for the change and became excellent change sponsors at the onset of the pandemic. They realized people were experiencing a wide range of emotions, and they needed to provide as much clarification and support as possible to maintain the well-being of their employees.
We saw change leaders support business leaders and employees by:
- Developing and implementing communication strategies and plans,
- Crafting transparent, empathetic messages that supported their employees holistically, including caring for their personal situations and well-being,
- Delivering communications using the right channels at the right time,
- Establishing multi-channel feedback loops to get real-time information and perspective about how employees were responding and what additional help and support they needed.
Using this enhanced communication experience and capability in the future will be key to successfully enabling desired change.
The Future of Change Enablement
I hope we can use the pandemic experience to positively help people understand how to transition through change a little easier. A couple of takeaway tips for success:
- Identify and communicate the real, relatable urgency to achieve alignment and increase the speed of adoption.
- Review people’s behaviors and interactions to identify where you can do things differently to facilitate positive connections.
- Communicate frequently, empathetically, transparently and holistically.
Although I hope we never have another COVID-19 like experience, having the right tools in our toolbox will ensure we are prepared for future changes.