You’ve changed your organization because of COVID-19. Now, prepare together for what’s next

You’ve changed your organization because of COVID-19. Now, prepare together for what’s next

Organizations that have made rapid changes because of the pandemic should address any unintended consequences of earlier decisions, and pave the way for additional beneficial changes. Approach those changes with rigor so you can position your organization for post-pandemic success, by following eight simple, smart practices.

The wave upon wave of changes that organizations have made since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have reached into every corner of how they work—new or different offerings to customers, modified work arrangements, overhauled business processes, redesigned organizational structures, and more. Some of those changes will remain even after the pandemic recedes, because they position organizations for greater relevance in whatever the new normal becomes.

Take the shift from in-person to remote work arrangements. Until the pandemic hit, many organizations vacillated regarding their practices and policies; some allowed for remote work while others rejected it or reversed their earlier support for it. Then, as COVID-19 spread rapidly, working from home became a safety imperative. A massive change ensued.

Now, as it seems certain that the pandemic will not disappear quickly, work-from-home arrangements have become accepted as a norm in professional organizations. Some companies, notably in the tech industry, have said they intend to make remote work permanent. Others will pursue a hybrid model of some in-person, some remote.

As organizations decide to retain a version of changes they made in earlier phases of the pandemic—and as they turn their attention from emergency thinking to planning for their medium-to-long-range futures—now is a good time to evaluate the ramifications of their earlier decisions and determine what other changes must be made.

 

Working from home: A case study about change(s)

The emergency decision to mandate working from home was itself a giant change for most organizations. As a result of that single change, other things had to change as well:

  • Organizations needed to ensure that all workers had the necessary equipment to work from home.
  • IT departments needed to update security protocols regarding employee connectivity, document storage and sharing, and the like.
  • IT and Finance departments needed to manage new infrastructures for remote meetings and the costs associated.
  • Teams that had previously been co-located now needed to establish practices to meet and do work from a distance.
  • Human Resources and corporate legal departments needed to establish protocols regarding acceptable work practices from a distance.
  • Managers needed to establish new norms about performance management to suit remote work.
  • Finance and facilities departments needed to determine how to securely maintain their now-closed facilities.

In other words, a single change begat a series of other, rapid changes.

Fairly soon thereafter, what had seemed exceptional to workers, managers, administrators, and others became normalized—at least as far as possible in abnormal circumstances. The patchwork of quickly enacted changes, however, also revealed a weakness: Organizations may not have considered fully the ramifications of their decisions, and other changes that might be required or beneficial.

 

Looking forward, and adding change-management rigor

With the effects of COVID-19 stretching well into 2021, it will be awhile before organizational practices can revert to the way they were (if that is even desirable). As organizational leaders and workers shift from adrenaline-laced emergency thinking to a focus on longer-term sustainability, we have reached a different stage in how organizations manage change. Changes are no longer just reactive and improvisational. Now it’s time to address change with more rigor—and to take stock of the consequences of earlier change decisions.

Returning to the remote-work example: In at least one professional organization, a generational divide is being revealed between the older supervisors who are uncomfortable with not being able to directly observe what their workers are doing each day, and the younger workers who are embracing a work-from-home approach because it allows greater autonomy and a happier work-life balance. This is forcing to the surface a series of new or previously dormant issues related to:

  • Expectations of supervisor oversight of workers
  • Worker expectations regarding their autonomy
  • Preferred work practices regarding collaboration and working solo
  • Cultural norms about the work environment

It’s time for this organization to examine and address these issues. In turn,

  • Now is a good time for organizations to evaluate and attend to the many equivalent issues that are emerging from other quickly enacted changes during the pandemic.
  • Organizations should look ahead to the next wave of changes they need to make, to position them solidly for the late-pandemic and post-pandemic future.

Even as organizational workers may be fatigued by the many changes they’ve gone through in the past months, they’ve also proven their ability to make change happen in short order. Now, let’s build on that capability. In addition, many of the first changes drove compliance if not enthusiasm; in the next wave of changes, incorporate practices that invigorate people, are inclusive, and invite co-creation.

 

Simple, smart, diligent change practices for the current times

Here are some guidelines organizations can consider to enact smart change management in this new phase of pandemic realities:

  • Take stock of unforeseen consequences from earlier changes. Start by creating an inventory of the major changes, and formally or informally identifying what issues may be emerging from them.
  • Determine which issues may undermine your organization as you look forward. Some will be more important than others as you plan for longer-term sustainability and success.
  • Look ahead to determine what other issues may require organizational change. As you plan for the next 12 to 24 months, what must you address so your organization is in the strongest position?
  • Gather together temporary working groups to address each priority issue. Constitute the groups with people who care about the topic and will be affected by any change. This will result in better effectiveness of any forthcoming changes than a simple mandate will yield.
  • Ask each group to gather facts about what’s happening regarding their assigned issue. If you have quantitative data related to an issue, examine them. Otherwise, gather qualitative data by talking to people in your organization who have experience and perspectives about the issues at hand.
  • In each group, identify options that can address the facts from step 4. Cull the list of options to the most viable ones. This is an opportunity to invite creative thinking and contributions from multiple voices.
  • Enact pilot changes for one or more options. Keep the pilots small and short, and determine which yield the best results. Report your findings to sponsors.
  • As appropriate, turn successful pilot changes into larger and more permanent changes.

 

This simple change-management process incorporates a number of best practices in organizational change, so you can add more rigor to the new round of changes than you may have been able to in the early days of the COVID emergency. By following these steps now, your organization will be in a better position to succeed in the months ahead, whatever they may bring.

Tom Lowery is Better Still’s content creator and designer, and an expert and consultant in change management, talent management, leadership development, and team optimization. He holds a Masters degree in ethical leadership from Claremont Lincoln University. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, and consults in the U.S. and the E.U. Learn more about Better Still’s change-management process, Sane Change SM.

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