As organizations transition to the next phase of our new reality, change leaders around the world have important work to do to help individuals adapt. When it comes to managing change, our approaches are often similar, especially for users of the ADKAR Model. Despite these similarities, the unpredictable, ever-changing nature of the pandemic has revealed situational, cultural and geographical issues that may need special focus.
I recently co-hosted an informal webinar with one of our global partners, Qualians, to discuss emergent changes due to COVID-19 impacts. The enlightening Q&A with attendees affirmed the situation that leaders from organizations on six continents have shared with me over the past few months. Here are four global insights that stand out:
I have not heard a single leader say they expect to go back to the exact same model they had in early 2020. This will have profound changes to the way teams are formed, the way organizations interact, and the expectations employees and contractors have.
During a recent call with a business leader in Sydney, Australia, we discussed the challenges of returning to a high-rise, city office building. Because their office is on the 42nd floor and social distancing requirements must be in place, only two people can occupy the elevator at a time. They estimate it will take over an hour for their people to get up to the office. Certainly, an employer can implement and work through such a change. But as an employee or manager, who wants to return to that? And is it necessary?
Situations like this will lead to the virtual work environment lasting longer than most anticipated. As a result, we need to learn how to focus on adoption and effective use of changes when we cannot physically see the work being done. Going forward, I predict we will use systems more to check on how work is being performed, which will require leaders to learn how to spot resistance in new and different ways while continuing to focus on interactivity and empathy.
Organizations are, of course, experiencing unique challenges. In some developing countries, remote office work was limited or non-existent prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. For these organizations and their people, the transition was difficult. Many offices had only desktop computers and lacked remote access to systems. Their processes were designed around physical signatures and stamps. Now that they have invested in digital systems and processes, I expect the digital approach to stay. Consider financial institutions, for example. They will continue to implement numerous changes to the way they interact with clients and will need to really think about how people will respond to those changes as the current situation transitions to the future. Some individuals will applaud the changes and some will be very hesitant, which can lead to a much longer transition than was first envisioned.
Helping organizations think about ways cultural differences affect how people respond to change is absolutely my favorite aspect of change management. Among other factors, we have learned from research that the way we communicate influences how effectively we implement change. Open and informal versus structured and hierarchical. The degree to which organizations focus on the group versus the individual. The way decisions get made. All these choices matter. Now add the fact that we are dealing with multiple adaptations concurrently with little clarity about the future. This is a challenge for all organizations and especially those dealing with multicultural dynamics due to geographic or organizational history, such as mergers and acquisitions.
To address this, I encourage leaders to stay engaged with their people, even more than before, and find out how they are adapting to the changes. Change practitioners should assess and adapt their deployment plans much more frequently. And communities of practice should increase their level of focus on local adoption.
Numerous institutions from around the globe, including a utility company in Asia, a government entity in the Middle East, and a multinational consumer company based in Europe reached out over the past several weeks for help with their culture transformation initiatives. To be honest, I thought many of these organizational endeavors would be on hold for awhile. But leaders are recognizing that the work environment, the way people interact, and core capability expectations need to be adjusted, so they cannot wait.
Our research team has been doing some interesting work on how to adapt change management for situations like this. We are learning how to focus on driving forces, which make change easier to implement, and restraining forces, which make it more difficult. Because many aspects of culture transformation involve behavior changes, these techniques can be very useful. We can map this information to how people accept change using the ADKAR Model and then put together the strategies to focus on effective adoption.
Working through high levels of change means organizations are experiencing high levels of resistance from people, who are already fatigued by personal changes from the pandemic. To help people develop and maintain the ability to handle multiple, parallel changes, I suggest focusing on a holistic, organizational approach. First, everyone in the organization—sponsors, people managers, project team members, and front-line employees—must understand their role in change and be able to execute it. We call this building enterprise change management capability.
The approach should also focus on agility concepts to help individuals and groups understand that small, recurring changes are now the norm. It starts with setting expectations and then moves into regular assessments that look at which groups are being impacted, as well as when and how. Understanding if a group is on the receiving end of four or five changes at once enables you to prioritize decisions and spread out changes better.
A holistic approach to handling ongoing change also requires knowing where your organization stands in terms of change management maturity. Conducting a maturity assessment demonstrates clearly, in five different areas, where your organization excels and where you need improvement. We have found that organizations on the low end of change management maturity lack the ability to handle and succeed with multiple, rapid changes. Those with a higher level have shown much greater resilience.
Regardless of geography and culture, we cannot forget that people adjust to change at their own pace. Some adapt almost instantly to one and then hesitate on the next based on how they are impacted. One of the greatest mistakes organizations make is assuming that everyone will collectively accept a change or demonstrate resistance in the same ways. While some cultures do tend to move more as a group and some very individualistically, the notion that individual people make their own individual decision about change is undeniable. At its core, this is why change management exists and why all organizations need it for success.
Mark Dorsett has over 25 years of experience as a global business leader, influencer, and corporate executive. As EVP of Global Business and ICT, he oversees global, strategic business partnerships for Prosci, as well as technology. In this role, Mark interacts with people and organizations in 40 countries and on six continents, helping them find ways to achieve greater value from their change initiatives.
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