The changes we all endured this year impacted everything we do as organizations, as change practitioners, and as human beings. And the lessons we learned will continue to affect us for years to come.
Prosci, like the rest of the world, felt the tremendous impacts of the global pandemic starting in March. Not only did employees move to working from home with a half-day warning, but our in-person training and advisory services portfolios had to be virtualized in a matter of weeks. While we learned a lot about ourselves and our change community, there is plenty more learning ahead. Here are the issues and ideas that stand out for me as I reflect on this unimaginable yet unforgettable year.
Michelangelo said this when he was 87 years old. It means, “Yet, I am still learning.” This notion of ancora imparo has felt really prominent throughout 2020. We have been learning how to work remotely, how to create virtual engagements, and how to establish a virtual language so we can interact effectively for three days in a virtual setting. We launched new ways to serve change practitioners, like weekend certification classes and offering foundational programs to the general public that were once reserved for organizations. We have also seen the emergence of new patterns and relationships within organizations. The entire year presented learning opportunities with an advisory board, webinar attendees, and customers and clients making real-time adaptations. We don’t have all the answers, but we have learned a lot from our community that we keep working to bring forward. Every day I learn something that helps me make more sense of the world, so I can try to help others do the same, and 2021 promises plenty more opportunities for ancora imparo.
In the face of a major crisis, we can chaotically flail or pivot. When the pandemic hit, Prosci chose to mobilize our teams and pivot. The first thing we learned was that to pivot successfully, you must anchor to purpose. Our employees are so grounded in our collective purpose of empowering change practitioners to bring more successful change to their people that we were able pivot our in-person 3-day Change Management Certification Program to make it completely virtual in a matter of weeks. It took the whole team working on it with zero downtown and some guts, but we did it. On March 10, we kicked off our final series of in-person programs. And on March 17, we kicked off our first virtual program with a courageous delivery team dedicated to the experience of the 32 courageous learners who took the leap in that session. We could not have made that happen if we weren’t anchored to who we are as a team, what the initiative needed to achieve, and what the organization is all about. Pivot around purpose.
After the “involuntary digital transformation” that took place when organizations moved to remote work in March, businesses focused on the idea of re-entry once we have a COVID-19 vaccine. But it’s clear now that we won’t return to the way things were because we are in a fundamentally new business environment that is evolving and growing each week the pandemic response continues.
After the big bang of moving work remote, we had to figure out how to work apart from each other. It was challenging and hard, but with human ingenuity and grit we figured out how to communicate, collaborate and operate effectively. During the crisis, time and place had become squishy revealing that when and where people do their work doesn’t always matter. The fact that it occurred over mere days created tremendous learning and demand. The fact that it will continue gives us opportunities for continued growth.
Organizational leaders have told us that at least some percentage of work that used to be done on-premises will stay remote. Most of us figured out the minimum viable hybrid workplace because we had to, but how can we develop it effectively for the future? What should the employee experience look like? What will effective communications look like in a hybrid workplace? We are establishing a new way of being an organization and new ways of interacting with each other as employees. Out of necessity, we created a new kind of organization that organizational change leaders are stepping into today—and that hybrid workplace requires new organizational capabilities. As we reclaim shared space in 2021, how can we be strategic about when and where “the where” actually matters.
Change has become iterative and adaptive by necessity. We used to have traditional, waterfall changes with longer timelines and a single drop. And we had some iterative, adaptive changes that took place as a series of releases. Now that organizations must respond to ongoing, changing conditions due to the pandemic, all change has become iterative and adaptive—a significant shift in the way we manage our work. It’s like we’re all driving in the mountains and can’t see around the bend. Using iterative and adaptive approaches to change management is getting us to the bend and helping us anticipate more effectively as we come around it.
Coaching a sponsor to build a coalition of support, holding a PCT Assessment workshop with a project team, communications and training—they’re all done virtually now. For example, building a coalition is one of the three critical roles sponsors must fulfill during times of change. Our research has shown this for over a dozen years. Is it still important in a hybrid world? Yes, absolutely. But the way the sponsor is going to build the coalition has changed because they no longer have business lunches and social events to build coalitions around. Similarly, a lot of the activities practitioners do—communications, training, facilitating—must be now done in the hybrid environment. How will you virtualize the practice of change management?
Given what we all have going on outside of work and at work, we need to overindulge the heck out of grace and gratitude. Change practitioners are often perfectionists who work very hard and are so dedicated to the job and people. Sometimes they have the hardest time when things don't go as planned or can't get everything in place like they thought they could. And so, I want the change community to remember two things: 1) progress over perfection and 2) everything in moderation, except grace and gratitude—especially with yourself.
The crowded change portfolio is getting more people-dependent. Most of the value of the improvement we expect from initiatives in 2021 will come from people doing their jobs differently. This means there's a huge opportunity for change management to support both the strategic and pandemic-response changes that organizations are rolling forward with right now. Organizations that had invested in building change muscle in their organizations when the pandemic struck this year are reaping the benefits now because they were ready. Organizations that commit to building change muscle now can reap those same benefits when 2021 presents the next set of changes.
Workplaces are changing. Organizations are changing. Change is changing. Prosci is here to learn with you and support you on the journey.
Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.
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