There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is an event without parallel in the annals of modern history. It has infected millions of our fellow humans, caused the untimely deaths of thousands and disrupted our daily lives. The resulting economic downturn, particularly in select industries, is very real and remains painful. Just ask anyone in the airline, hotel, restaurant or commercial real estate business. The crisis is far from over. The re-opening of society, perhaps prematurely, could lead to a spike in cases. People are on edge. Economies are on edge. Many organizations are forced to downsize, and others are forced to adjust on many levels. Adding to this upheaval and uncertainly is the sad fact that our social fabric is clearly fraying.
How do you lead an organization, business or team during such turbulent times? It’s difficult because this is unchartered water. It’s hard to compare COVID-19 to other recent events, recessions or disasters. Some predict even more widespread social and economic consequences. Some compare it to historical plagues and pestilence that wrought destruction on mankind and think this one is milder by comparison. Others just want to get back to normal. Whatever that is.
Regardless of where you stand, there is no denying the reality of the transformation unfolding before us. Millions may never work from an office again, some of us will continue to shop exclusively online, while others will invest in new lighting, background and décor just to look a bit better on zoom.
Those of us who manage change for a living have been helping clients navigate these troubling times as they respond to the very real fluctuation in revenue, process and outlook. The good news is that humans are both hard wired to resist and adapt to change. Change management tools can help map a hopeful path forward to get to the other side. Below is a tip to help remember how to develop a CLEAR solution to any change strategy.
Make sure the approach is tailored to your specific needs. No organization or situation is the same. Some businesses are losing market share, others need to launch new products. Some need to switch process and procedures, others need to shift resources as their customer base, sales and revenue forecasts decline, or even expand. Make sure your change strategy is designed for your situation, not something pre-packaged or dusted off from long before this crisis hit.
Engage early and often. Involve your workforce, customers and impacted stakeholders on your redirection to earn real dividends. Use them as sounding boards or mini focus groups to validate your approach and give you honest-to-goodness feedback. Some worry they don’t have time for this step. However, you don’t need full-blown stakeholder engagement plan to reap rewards. Understanding what those invested in your success think and incorporating their ideas not only is wise, it saves time in the long run and keeps you on the right path.
Embed your future state goals and purpose for being in your change approach. Most organizations have a vision or mission. Every plan has a long-term horizon. Many have identified a purpose – a reason for why you do what you do. Even in a crisis that requires quick action, remember these “whys”, harness the power of this purpose, and include it your transformation’s guiding principles so your approach is both head and heart. There is nothing worse than successfully navigating a storm only to emerge with less zeal, passion or values.
Expect course correction, perhaps frequently. While the need for action is real, so too is the need to adapt on the fly. At a time when the ground may be shifting under your competitive landscape, own the simple truth that you won’t be right every time. Decisions that seemed fine will need reevaluation when the facts or metrics don’t add up. Changing course or adjusting strategy is not failure, in fact it’s a sign of strength. As long as your change strategy is customized, you keep listening to stakeholders and you’ve envisioned the future you are passionate about creating, making adjustments is just plain commonsense.
Create a proactive plan or high-level blueprint so both leaders and teams can see progress, pitfalls as well as prepare for next steps. It gives everyone a sense of responsiveness, not just reaction. A roadmap does not negate the need for adjustment. You can update a roadmap or take a detour to respond to a very real threat or opportunity. Avoid only focusing on what is in front of you. Many times, those in crisis want only the next step. While it is imperative to act, it’s just as vital to anticipate, plan, and forecast. People desire both the big picture and the next step. Do both in equal measure.
There are multiple tools in the project and change management arsenal that can help develop the right strategy to weather this storm. Whether you are growing, contracting, or morphing, make sure when choosing a partner to set your strategic re-direction that your goals and path forward are clear (pun intended).
Mark Webster is an advisor to Affinity Strategies. He is president of Mark Webster Communication and a partner in a change management consulting firm MW + VC partners. He’s advised Fortune 500 companies, iconic brands, and leading NGOs across the globe on their change and communication strategies. For more information, visit markwebstercommunication.com or mwvcpartners.com.