What 2021 taught us about managing change throughout COVID-19

Businesses that have survived – and in some cases thrived – during the COVID-19 pandemic have one major characteristic in common: they successfully implemented change.

Almost every business in Australia, New Zealand, and all over the globe, has had to rapidly introduce new policies and procedures around workplace safety (social distancing, masks, QR code check-in, sanitisation and deep cleaning) and also implement working from home with its attendant problems involving equipment, digital communication and emotional well-being. Many companies have had to re-think and transform their business models, their products and services, their operations, how they communicate to their customers.

That’s a huge amount of change achieved in a very short time, and the businesses that have accomplished it successfully were the ones who applied change leadership. Managing businesses through change has become a key leadership skill in today’s climate, and the businesses that are leading through change are positioned for success in 2022.

Key attributes of change leaders

Various change management models are used in contemporary organisations – Kotter, McKinsey 7-S, ADKAR and Lewin, for example – but the common thread that runs through most of them is change leadership and its adjunct, effective communication.

Change management and business leadership are required at all levels of the organisation. To achieve this, leaders should:

  • Acknowledge the changes that are happening and the effects of these on the organisation, its people and customers.
  • Realise that communication is key. Leaders at the highest level should be open and available for their managers, so that they in turn are able to understand the bigger picture and effectively lead and support their teams through the transition.
  • Aim to have outstanding levels of self-awareness – the first step of emotional intelligence – and be able to harness this to effectively support their people through changes within their organisation or industry.

Learning from 2021 to adapt in 2022 and beyond

It’s a certainty that more changes lie ahead. Businesses and leaders who have learned from the past will be able to adapt quickly to whatever the future has in store.

Here are some of the lessons these adaptive and agile organisations have learned:

  • Change should come about via an orderly process, to avoid confusion, muddle and antagonism. There are significant benefits to be gained from the implementation of clear change management processes, so that employees are prepped for – and used to – changes in the organisation. The processes must be owned by the leadership teams at all levels, and buy-in gained from all staff. This will occur most readily in businesses who already have an open culture focussed around supporting change.
  • Transparent and open communication is vital. When employees feel that they understand the reasons for the change, why it is happening and the benefits it will bring, their morale will be reinforced. Adopting honest and intelligible communication as part of the ongoing leadership mandate can be critical in any future transitions of the business.
  • Seize opportunities, not just threats. So much of the recent economic narrative has been about hazards and setbacks, and the need to act fast in a crisis, that innovative ideas can be swamped by the need for purely reactive responses. Opportunities offered by different ways of working, creative ways to meet customer needs and new product or service possibilities, should not be overlooked in the rush to adapt.
  • Bite-sized goals work best. Although leaders need to visualise the ultimate target, breaking business changes down into short term goals can support teams in their transition, and help build morale and a sense of achievement. Celebrate the milestones as they occur, with everyone involved.

We can help

If you’d like some assistance with managing change through COVID-19 and beyond, we encourage you to contact us for an obligation-free discussion to explore how we can help.

Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.

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