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Become a Strong Driver of Change: Lessons From a Global Pandemic

Published Thu Oct 01 2020


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Adversity propels growth by forcing us to adapt and innovate out of necessity. During the past six months I’ve seen the value of extraordinary change management and how a mindset shift from the old, stagnant change approach to a preventative, proactive, and responsive approach transformed my thinking and helped me grow as a change professional in four key areas.

Uncertainty Is a Certainty, so Plan for It

Knowing that uncertainty is always going to be a constant, I’m redoubling my efforts to recognize when my clients or I are falling into the old trap of planning, managing, and sustaining. Instead, I’m refocusing my sights on the preventative, proactive, responsive mindset. I had a client that had been preparing for an enterprise go-live for months and was set to turn on the switch in mere weeks. But stay-at-home restrictions changed entire businesses nearly overnight, leaving the team to decide how to move forward. There were two options: maintain the chartered course and go-live as-planned or respond to the new context and incoming data about how the workforce was struggling to cope with the new ways of life. The team decided to change the plan by pushing the system go-live to be responsive to the needs of the employees and business. Of course, that meant that we had a whole new set of potential risks—and those risks changed often—to anticipate and mitigate. But by framing the change through a flexible, more forward-thinking lens, we were able to better support employees and deliver value to the business.

Capable Leadership at All Levels Is Nonnegotiable

A strong leader, no matter where they sit in the organization, is essential in tough times. During good times it is easier to overlook lackluster leadership, but during difficult time the cracks in the foundation become apparent. In change leadership, a good leader is one who has a preventative, proactive, responsive mindset and can meet the new challenges of day-to-day work in this environment.

Manage Change Fatigue by Avoiding a Piecemeal Approach

The first step to combating change fatigue is to take a preventative approach by planning for and managing organizational changes. This should start at the leader level with sponsors engaged with each other and their colleagues. This may spur some difficult questions about whether the change is strategic and how it will affect employees and customers. A coordinated, preventative approach to change allows leaders to predict risks and points of failure and ensure they don’t happen.

Change saturation also needs to be measured. Doing so allows leaders to be responsive to employee needs in real-time before and during the change. Frontline employees and stakeholders are a key resource to understanding the real change experience. There are a lot of formal methods to gather this data (surveys, interviews, champion networks), but don’t discount the informal interactions as valuable information sources.

A Global Mindset Is Critical and Will Never Not Be

We are global citizens living in an interconnected, interdependent world. Our organizations are too. This has highlighted for me two valuable lessons. The first is that I should always pay attention to the broader context. What is happening elsewhere does affect the world. Having this broader perspective will help you be better able as a leader to take a preventative approach by giving you the information you need to predict risks and take actions to safeguard against negative effects.

The second lesson is that a one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t fit anyone. Cultural and regional differences influence how each of us responds to change. Your plan should be proactive in that it is dictated by the change itself and the affected participants, which may mean that it will involve various approaches to meet the needs of different audiences.

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