The tricky element of change management is always about the people. For far too long, many organizations have believed that if the process and the technology are right, the people will follow. However, as we have seen this year, this scenario is rarely the case. For many employees, coming to work provides an important grounding factor in life’s many variances; however, in 2020, this reliable anchor was disrupted. As a result, many people are understandably wondering how to retain a sense of focus and purpose when the future appears so uncertain.
The list of changes we are all facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is growing constantly. Everyone is working hard to adapt as quickly as possible, but rarely have we faced such a significant volume of change in our personal and professional lives: social distancing, working from home, school closures, revised business practices, furloughed employees, national lockdowns, local lockdowns, the rule of six, social bubbles, job losses, masks on, masks off, social isolation and individual uncertainty … the list goes on. We are all experiencing unprecedented levels of change that are intruding into every area of our lives. Furthermore, all of these changes can lower our self-esteem and our ability to cope with the change process — just at a time we need to feel most capable.
Conventional models of support for employees center on the ubiquitous change curve, which was adapted from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model of grief. It outlines four stages that most people go through as they adjust to change. There are a lot of variations of the change curve, each using different labels for the points along the curve. Ultimately, however, they all suggest that people respond to change in a relatively predictable way that can be anticipated and, therefore, managed. However, in the current climate, there are so many different changes happening to different people at different times — and at such a ferocious pace — that this linear, one-dimensional model is less useful.
Clearly, there are no instant solutions; however, we do know that helping people develop a more flexible and adaptive approach will not only benefit themselves but also add greater operational agility. As Bruce Lee reportedly has said, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
The Advantages of a More Adaptive Mindset
People who are committed to change and adaptation are more likely to apply past lessons to new challenges. They embrace change and, as a result, are more likely to cope effectively during times of uncertainty. They can think more clearly under pressure and have the capacity to remain calm and composed. More inclined to view obstacles as challenges, they are also less likely to be demotivated by setbacks or changing circumstances.
Typically, these adaptive individuals associate innovation and invention with long-term commercial possibilities and are more comfortable navigating complex and disruptive situations. Better at reconciling conflicting priorities, they have the capacity to help others understand and deal with concerns relating to change. By responding positively to adaptation at work and acting as a change champion, they are also able to encourage buy-in from everyone around them.
10 Practical Ways to Provide Support During Change
To help you support your team during this time of change, here are 10 tips:
1. Create Certainty
Help others to accept change by creating certainty during uncertain times. Be open and transparent about what is happening, and communicate in abundance. Concentrate on translating strategy into simple, everyday language. Where possible, emphasize the positive aspects of any change, celebrating any short-term wins and acting on all feedback you receive.
2. Involve Employees
Apply the simple principle that the greater the degree of change, the greater the degree of employee involvement required in order to build their commitment. People will always commit themselves to a world they help to create.
3. Remember That Change Is Hard
Behavioral change is hard, even if our life depends on it. It’s been estimated that 90% of heart bypass patients fall back into their old habits after just two years. Read Alan Deutschman’s book “Change or Die” to discover a three-part strategy for beating these odds, and learn a thing or two about change management in the process.
4. Keep Individual Differences in Mind
Be mindful of individual variables in terms of how people respond to change. Age, psychological disposition, external stressors, life situation and ability to deal with ambiguity all play a part.
5. Be Flexible
Create a flexible plan that can evolve with changing circumstances by focusing on the planning process, not the plan. Look into using “brown-paper planning” as a method to prepare your projects and increase your chances of success. This technique will help you to engage your team in the planning process and build greater ownership of implementation.
6. Develop Multiple Solutions
Try to generate multiple solutions for different problems. Often, during change, we opt for the most expedient solution — which may not always be the most effective one. Fixating helps the brain cope with uncertainty but prevents us from solving problems. Search online for the “cheap necklace problem” exercise to find out how fixating on a single solution at the expense of other alternatives can impair our ability to move forward.
7. Technology Is Not the Only Answer
Recognize how technology may be able to assist you, but don’t forget the sobering equation OO + NT = EOO (old organization + new technology = expensive old organization). Technology is only one lever, and people must always come first.
8. Acknowledge the Knowing-doing Gap
You are unlikely to motivate anyone to act differently unless you can help them feel confident about their ability first. Encourage team members to practice small parts of the required change first.
9. Avoid Perfectionism
Monitor any inclination toward wanting to do things 100% right. Good is usually good enough. Highly conscientious people have the strongest correlation with change resistance, but perfectionism is unrealistic in most work situations and may unknowingly be lead to a delay in achieving outcomes. Eighty percent is good enough in most cases.
10. Encourage Connections
Finally, encourage people to connect with others across your organization. Research reveals that strong social connections bolster resilience, increase well-being and make us feel more productive. Encourage team members to reflect on who they spend time with on a daily basis. If they are connecting with people who are optimistic and more satisfied with life, evidence suggests that they will start to be influenced by their positive outlook.