What COVID-19 tells us about change

These are clearly unprecedented times that we are all living through.

However, as with all times of crisis, there are valuable lessons to be learnt for the future. None more so from a business perspective than how we lead and manage change.

If we can learn these lessons, the chances are that more change initiatives will successfully deliver what they set out to.

 

Change is a human game

A long time ago, someone once said to me that ‘change happens one person at a time’. If I’m honest, I didn’t really get it back then.

However, this has certainly been brought back into focus through today’s events. Every single one of us is impacted by the changes around social distancing, self-isolation and working patterns. We are all looking at the personal implications of these changes on our lives and how best to understand, accept and adapt to them. And for these changes to work, it needs all of us to make specific individual changes.

The scale of a typical business change initiative may not compare to COVID-19 but the emotional journey that employees still go through is essentially the same. The focus on these initiatives tends to be on IT systems, business processes, organisational re-structuring – but somewhere down the line individual employees have to adapt to changes and to new ways of working that can have a profound effect on them and their working lives. The success of these initiatives depends on the individual buy-in to the changes required at a personal level.

 

Control, certainty and clarity

The thing about us humans though, is that we are creatures of habit – we crave control, we want certainty and we yearn for clarity. In change, that’s an inherently tricky thing to give everyone.

There’s an inescapable feeling in today’s world that we are lacking all three of these things. We can’t control the global events that are unfolding in front of us. There’s a genuine uncertainty on where and when this will end, and how events will unfold over the coming weeks. And, we are all seeking clarity on what the various announcements and measures that have been introduced really mean.

It’s a similar feeling for employees when change programmes are being undertaken in their organisations. There’s a constant search for answers to the many questions that people have – will I lose my job, how will this affect my pay, will I be able to do the new role I am being asked to, will I be working with the same people? All of this is driven by the need to regain control, provide certainty and give clarity.

 

Communication, communicate, communicate (and engage)

Whilst there’s obviously no silver bullet to providing this assurance for everyone, the intent to give as much of this as possible can be put in place. Putting the human impact of the change front and centre provides a platform for much of this to be achieved.

Today we are seeing daily televised press conferences with the Prime Minister and two senior aides by his side, a dedicated NHS website with advice and guidance on COVID-19, a constant parade of Ministers, MPs and experts across 24/7 news channels and a Prime Ministerial address to the nation reaching more that 27m people. All designed to provide a level of reassurance to individuals and to enable us to process changes at a personal level.

It’s true that most business change initiatives have people workstreams, business change committees, a communications and engagement plan and training schemes in place. And yet the research and statistics on how many change programmes fail to deliver the benefits and outcomes they set out to remain consistently high. Maybe this is a coincidence but perhaps it’s an indication that these areas are not always given the same level of priority as others.

 

The new ‘new normal’

There’s been a lot of talk about adapting to the ‘new normal’ over recent days and weeks. Perhaps there is an opportunity to ensure that something similar is now consistently in place for how we lead and manage change moving forward – so that this becomes the norm rather than the exception.

An approach that puts people at the centre of business change initiatives. One that provides a balance between the organisational requirements for the change and the front-line factors that impact every employee. One that ensures the human impact of change is at the forefront to protect every organisations’ most valued asset.

At Project One, we help and support our many customers to ensure that their businesses are ready to embrace and adopt change and their employees are actively engaged and involved in the change process. It’s a critical part of the successful business change journey and that’s where our experience and expertise lie. Our team are continuing to do this in the current environment, using their experience of working remotely and orchestrating virtual teams. We have a simple and pragmatic approach that helps our customers through every step of their own bespoke journey, and we’d be delighted to help you through yours.

I am going to be publishing a series of follow-on blogs focusing in on some of the areas I’ve talked about above and sharing new ideas and best practice on business change management. Please look out for more blogs in the coming weeks and in the meantime, please comment below with topics or questions you would like me to cover in more detail. Finally, if you’d just value a sounding board at the current time, please do get in contact at john.howarth@projectone.com.

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POSTED BY: John Howarth - Consulting Director

CONTACT: john.howarth@projectone.com

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