Change takes time, whether it is an organizational transformation, a specific project, or even individual growth. So, it could be several weeks, months, or years before companies can label their change initiative as ‘successful’. But in the meanwhile, how do they know whether they are on track or need to course correct?
Take the case of what is perhaps the most extensive and seismic change program of the decade – the mass transition to work-from-home. Granted, organizations didn’t have much choice since the pandemic forced the change. And as with typical change programs, some championed it while others, challenged it, resisted it, accepted it, or were afraid of it. But nearly all organizations adapted rather quickly, and in two years, some have even fine-tuned and scaled several best practices.
Now, as businesses hope to transition employees back to the workplace (in what could be considered another change management program), here are some valuable lessons from the pandemic-led work-from-home movement that teach us how to keep change programs on track.
- Articulate the reason for change. There needs to be a compelling reason for the change. For example, when COVID-19 began, it was necessary to prevent the contagion from spreading unchecked. Leaders, vendors, partners, employees, and customers aligned with this reason and braced for the shift as best as they could.
- Do a risk-benefit analysis. Every change comes with risks and benefits. In the case of the work-from-home shift, the stakes were disruption to business, poor infrastructure to support the movement, higher IT threats, and compromised collaboration. On the other hand, the benefits were ensuring employee safety, maintaining employment rates, and keeping operations and economies running.
- Take responsibility. Someone needs to lead the change and stay accountable for results. In the case of the pandemic, what emerged was a decentralized structure where team leads, managers, HR departments, and senior leadership took the onus of keeping employees engaged, customers satisfied, and vendors operational.
- Be open to innovation. Sometimes, new tools are needed to drive change to fruitful outcomes. Many software tools and new business models emerged during the pandemic to guide enterprises in addressing challenges of IT security, collaboration, communication, productivity, efficiency, time management, and more. While these required investments, there were also opportunities for cost-cutting. For instance, with employees rarely visiting the office, many organizations shifted to more compact workspaces to optimize rental costs.
- Create opportunities for continuous improvement. Feedback and learning are critical to keep change management on track. Consider how companies like Atlassian, SAP, Twitter, and Hubspot wish to evolve the work-from-anywhere model to a hybrid one. They are keenly incorporating lessons of the pandemic and imbibing best practices to keep employees motivated while creating business outcomes.
There are several change management models that companies can use to drive and sustain change programs. What’s important is to create a compelling vision and opportunities for learning, while leading with compassion.