During any change, the transition state is disorganized and unpredictable, but the pandemic has taken the phase to a new level of complexity. Without a clear future state to target, leaders and sponsors of change must actively work to bring the new normal into focus, even as circumstances continue to evolve. To successfully guide organizations and people through this unique transition state, leaders should give their attention and energy to three key areas of responsibility.
Here are three key areas leaders should be focusing on as organizations work through the transition phase of pandemic-related changes:
Leaders are continuing to work on stabilizing business operations as a result of the involuntary changes thrust upon all of us from the pandemic. This is rightly taking up the bulk of their attention, probably 50 to 60 percent of their time. Key issues include pivots to new business models and product offerings, understanding the larger business landscape by connecting with other leaders, and ensuring that sound practices in change management are applied to the stabilization activities by engaging and empowering the change practitioners within their organization.
Leaders must realize that they need to be visible, communicative and accountable during this transition phase. They also need to understand that all employees may be starting from different current states. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work effectively, especially with the added stress on employees dealing with uncertainties during a pandemic.
Leaders should be asking, “What is our organization’s new reality going to look like?” “Where do we need to invest and innovate?” This means evaluating go-to-market strategies, how to promote products given the constraints, and how to build any new Knowledge and Ability within the sales force. Supply chains will need further adjustments, especially if your future state cannot revert to former approaches. Technology requirements are likely a big focus for organizations who continue to work with a remote workforce. And any plans for returning to in-person service delivery or in-office work will require quite a bit of planning and effort. Leadership teams need to devote the time to define these future-state requirements.
The key role for leaders is to bring clarity to the deliberate pivots and priorities that will need to be flawlessly executed across the enterprise. The leader and sponsors need to bring clarity of purpose, and drive Awareness and Desire for these pivots. Specific clarity about the future state, as compared to the current state (i.e., before the pandemic), will help employees better understand what has really changed and why. It is also imperative that the challenges of transition be acknowledged as part of the overall planning and communication.
It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent matters of the day, especially when so much is at stake for many organizations. Leaders tend to view the transition state of change as necessary and messy, and best left to change and project teams to work through the details. But for a leader, the transition phase is a critical time to focus on empathy, understand what your people are going through, and show them that they matter.
During any transition, people feel uncertain. The pandemic has them worried about their families, health and job security. Just as many are overwhelmed by increased workloads and the fatigue that sets in when organizations become saturated with changes—an issue every organization faces at times, with or without a pandemic.
As a leader, you should find ways to check in with employees at a personal level. Acknowledge what they may be dealing with personally. Tell them that you want to know how they are feeling and the challenges they are facing. This enables you, as a leader, to better communicate to others what the transition means to them as well. Then, share this with the teams that were created to execute through these pivots and initiatives. Ask for assurance that their execution plans have accounted for the concerns of employees and then communicate to employees the steps you took, as a leader, to incorporate their concerns. You will be amazed at how much this is appreciated.
Whether your organization has experienced an involuntary digital transformation or workforce reductions, or even if you’re doing business as usual, every individual in your organization has experienced significant change because of the pandemic. Now that the urgency has waned, the transition phase can feel like the time to divert your attention elsewhere, but your leadership is more important than ever. Moving your organization forward through the transition demands unrelenting focus―so your people can keep moving forward with you.
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Bryan Fontaine is an Executive Advisor at Prosci and the former VP of Global Operations and Corporate Development Engineering for Bose Corporation. As an executive sponsor of transformational change for more than 20 years, he has successfully architected major pivots in global enterprises. Today, Bryan advises leaders and executive teams to help them build organizational change capabilities. Bryan is also known as a dynamic public speaker who motivates leaders and teams to bring structure and intent to the people side of change.
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