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As creatures of habit, people aren’t generally comfortable with change. Change is traumatic. It can make us feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us, and the stress it causes can create resistance and denial. But as we see the entire world being turned upside down by COVID-19, we can find some comfort knowing that all people, and by extension, all companies, are going through the same thing, and are facing the same challenges.

If you have had to rethink aspects of your business model in response to the new normal, this article is for you.  

As Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis”. Companies who successfully use COVID-19 as an opportunity to pivot will have a better chance of emerging stronger than before. And if ever there was an opportunity to implement a major organisational change, this is it. The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm to disrupt traditional mindsets and ways of working.

There are a number of local companies in the hardest hit industries who have already pivoted their offering. Companies like HeavyChef, Workshop17 and Howler have all changed their service offering in a bid to keep the events and co-working industry afloat. The Drifter Brewing Company, Sasol, Inverroche, Vodacom, Granadilla Swim and K-Way are just some of the local businesses who have moved quickly and creatively to use what they have and know to make significant contributions to the COVID-19 relief response, by making and delivering food, supplying face masks and sanitizer or providing other digital support services. By responding quickly, they managed to keep the lights on whilst leveraging the opportunity to build on their brand by responding to emerging employee, customer and community needs.

But such change can be easy to imagine, and hard to do. For any business looking to reinvent their future and fundamentally transform their business model, the journey from vision to realisation will need to be effectively managed and the impact on people, customers and partners understood.

Some questions to consider

Does your senior team understand what the proposed changes mean and are they committed to achieving the shared vision? 

What approach will you follow to involve your employees to develop and realise the vision?

Do you know how you are going to embed this change, ensuring you take your people on the journey with you?

Drawing from our experience in helping companies manage change, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned

Empower the messenger.

Senior managers will need to be equipped to champion your proposed changes, so involve them early and get their input on the vision, impact and plan to get it going. They’ll be the ones faced with many questions, so invest in extra time with them to coach them in their response. This can be an incredible opportunity for growth, and will give your senior team an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership potential.

Create a feeling of belonging. 

Inspiring desire amongst employees can be difficult. Involving them in the process of articulating the vision and how they can contribute to achieving it will help create better buy-in, along with a sense of belonging. If you can include your customers in this, bonus!

Think empathically.

Consider how people will be impacted and develop your plans for change with a range of different scenarios in mind. Not all managers will buy into the change, so take this into account. Be patient and allow for a time of adjustment. Altering your KPIs and performance management strategies will further demonstrate that you’re aware of how much more challenging the new normal is, which will create a sense of loyalty and underline that we really are in this together.

Communication is key. 

With everyone feeling like they’re in the dark, it can be comforting to hear plans moving forward. Communication campaigns help bring messages to life for employees and can even bring a feeling of ease, excitement and a shared vision for the future. Some messages will be tough to deliver — be open, honest and authentic. If you can’t give clarity immediately, commit to when you can and stick to your commitment. And while you may be tempted to, don’t oversell the benefits and underplay the challenges. This almost always comes off as short-sighted.

Share your inspired vision. 

Showcasing quick wins and success stories both within your company, or using other prime examples like Howler's move to online events, are great ways to share inspiration and positively reinforce the right behaviours, as well as influence passive stakeholders who may feel resistant. If you can incentivise changes in behaviour, whether through financial rewards or other treats, do that too. In times of crisis, we all need something to look forward to.

In summary

As you plan a major change, it’s important to get your senior team on board, take their insights into consideration and coach them for the journey ahead. Communicate the way forward by consulting with employees, customers and communities, taking their insights into account too. A people-centred incentive and reward strategy as well as adjusting your approach to managing performance will help embed changes in the long-term. With clear communication throughout, what could be a jolting roller-coaster ride can actually feel more like an exciting adventure — leading to improved business outcomes and a team where employees and senior team members at all levels feel closer and more committed than ever.