How to learn from your organizational changes during COVID-19 and make changemaking a core competency of your operations
How many changes has your organization made since the COVID-19 pandemic began? In the rush to replace or update services, products, business processes, and organizational structures, you probably haven’t stopped to count—let alone take stock of what you’ve learned. However, as you plan ahead for the next year and more, don’t miss the vital opportunity to extract lessons from what you’ve experienced together.
Consider some of the areas where changes you’ve made provide insights into your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and prospects in a late-pandemic and post-pandemic world:
- Your value proposition with customers and stakeholders may have changed. With new or different products and services, people may see your organization differently. Perhaps you stand out now for quick, to-go services where before you emphasized slower, high-touch contact. Perhaps you’re known now as especially caring and responsive to customer needs because of how your staff went the extra mile. What’s your value proposition now, or what could it be?
- Your business processes may have been reinvented. Whether you streamlined, simplified, or jettisoned processes, or created new methods to see you through the crisis, each process change represents an opportunity to learn: What worked? What didn’t? How might we approach our processes differently from now on?
- Your decision-making methods may have changed. Did you centralize decisions so you could make them faster and keep tighter control? Did you decentralize them so people closer to the need could make quick, responsive decisions? In either case, what lessons can you carry forward?
- Your ways of working together likely transformed quickly. Most professional organizations halted in-person work arrangements in favor of remote work. Where co-located arrangements continued, such as in health care and other essential services like childcare, government mandates and safety protocols dictated new ways of working and interacting. What did that teach you, and what might you carry forward?
- You may have thought about your talent in new ways. Do you need the same number of workers as before the pandemic? What skills emerged as most critical? Where did your people shine through the emergency? How might you deploy team members differently now that you’ve observed them in a crisis?
- You have witnessed firsthand your organization’s ability to manage change. Out of necessity, your leaders and staff became change agents. What do you learn from that, and how will that position you in the future?
Each one of these areas, and more like them, are rich with lessons for your organization. Before memories become hazy, and as you turn your attention to the later phases of the pandemic and beyond, take time to pause, reflect, and learn.
How to extract lessons from your COVID-19 changes
Consider some combination of the following to invite learning from your leaders and staff:
- Administer surveys. Ask questions such as:
- What changes did you make in your work as a result of COVID-19?
- What changes, whether you made them or someone else did, had the biggest impact on your work?
- What effects did the changes have on the quality of your work and your work experience?
- How well do you believe the organization did in making the changes?
- What key lessons do you take from the changes that would be most valuable to our organization in the future?
- Hold focus groups. Building on the survey results, bring people together within their teams, or across multiple teams, to reflect more deeply about the changes and their lessons. Groups of five to seven may be ideal. Ask questions that may require more thoughtful responses than a survey could yield, such as:
- From this experience, what do we know about our customers that we didn’t know before the pandemic?
- What have we learned about our organization?
- What did you learn about yourself from the last number of months?
- What have we learned about each other?
- What are the emotional effects of the last months?
- What have we learned about our ability to make changes?
- Conduct one-on-one interviews. Talk with an assortment of individuals in greater depth still, especially those who have unique experiences and perspectives: The leader who had to make some of the toughest decisions in the height of the crisis. The frontline worker who came face to face with customers or stakeholders in key moments. The specialist whose expertise made a difference in challenging circumstances. What insights and lessons can they share that inform how the organization moves forward?
With each of these methods, develop a way to capture, distill, and share the findings so everyone can learn and prepare better for what’s next. Turn the challenges of the pandemic into a gift on behalf of the organization’s future.
Establish changemaking as a core competency of your organization
One of the greatest benefits to your organization from the taxing months of the pandemic is the experience it gained in making many necessary changes quickly. Only in a crisis do organizations have such an intense, immersive opportunity. Whether you made changes well or not, you turned your leaders and staff into a legion of change agents.
What will you do with this experience and the lessons you learned? Will you treat the pandemic as exceptional, and recede into old habits as soon as it’s over? Or will you turn this into a competitive advantage by committing to become an organization that excels at change?
If you choose the latter option, you have a head start because of your recent change experiences—but you will need to take intentional steps to become exemplary at change. Here are some actions to take:
- Extract key lessons about change and changemaking from your surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
- Share them with all staff in a specific set of communications, accompanied by an executive commitment to establish changemaking as a core organizational competency.
- Train select staff in best practices in organizational change management to complement the firsthand experiences they have had in change through the pandemic.
- Invite those staff to create communications and subsequent training for all other staff in effective changemaking, to suit your business and culture.
- Sponsor change challenges in the organization, in which executives actively encourage and support beneficial changes so the organization remains agile and responsive, even after the COVID-19 crisis.
- Reinforce changemaking in staff professional development, performance management, and hiring.
By taking these steps, your organization can harness powerful lessons about change from the pandemic and transform them into a distinct organizational advantage, so you’re well positioned for challenges and opportunities that await you.
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