Adapting to change in these unprecedented times

Jessica Bailey
Managing Director | Changetoolbox
5th May 2020

During these unsettling and uncertain times, adapting and changing a business is a steep learning for many and challenging for all. When you plan to implement change in any business, I know how tough going it can be at times, but adapting your business and fundamentally changing it without any plans, little to no expert resources, notice or requirement to do so, is a huge ask for any business and then on top, to do this at speed; this is unprecedented in my life time and a real test for your business and perhaps time for the survival of the fittest and smartest!

So, when change is happening, in my experience, your planning is best done whilst you are figuring out all of the other elements your business needs to achieve, like how to communicate with each other and your customers, and continuity of business. I also know that it can be a big mistake if you choose to implement change a step at a time and wait to achieve one element of change before starting another, there simply isn’t time! It’s pivotal to the success of your business plans that you’re right on top of your prep and planning, and on top of it now. So, if you want things to go more smoothly a big tip from me is to keep the communication lines open and transparent at all times and keep everyone aware of potential plans and updated on progress, and be sure to include any third parties in your communications, where appropriate.

When change is happening, everyone wants to be kept in the know and what it will mean to them, so it’s so important not to overlook this, or it could result in a lot of disengaged people, low morale and lack of motivation, at best! My steer is to keep everyone onboard and make people feel part of the decision-making process and let them have a voice where possible. Don’t overlook the importance of listening to feedback and be sure to respond to the questions, concerns and ideas you receive; I’m certain you will not regret this, it works incredibly well and I’ve achieved buy-in and levels of enthusiasm, energy and executed change more seamlessly and ahead of plan as a result, and strong communication is also a great vehicle to help support and manage levels of stress and peoples well-being.

When I’ve worked with businesses and supported them to introduce their people and workplace changes and transformations, I’ve seen all sorts of reactions from people, from those directly affected by the proposals of change and people who weren’t; my point is, don’t overlook those that aren’t, ensure your comm’s reaches out and informs them too, as well as anyone who may be on leave right now (generally long-term), it’s really important to make everyone feel part of your changes, don’t leave anyone on the side-lines; I know this can happen and I’m certain that it’s the reason why a whole set of different problems and challenges occur and right now, I’m guessing that no business has capacity nor appetite to deal with new or additional issues.

You may have experienced going through some form of change yourself, there’s been so many restructures, transfers of employment, transformations, mergers and acquisitions, particularly since the early, mid 2000’s that there is a good chance you have, so you may already recognise that people can react to change in different ways and I’ve certainly experienced this first-hand.

You may resonate with some of the 5 types of reactions I’m about to share from my experience...

  1. Avoidance of change: Divorce themselves from those involved in change and ignores what is happening, and often won’t have a view at meetings or offer any input to the proposed changes. This reaction requires swift inclusivity. I often find that a good way to encourage people to feel ok about change, rather than avoidance, is to nominate them into a ‘working group’ . The group is made up of people who help to communicate your changes, help to allay any fears, seek feedback and come up with change ideas to help find the right solutions
  2. Resistance to change: There’s lack of engagement with those who are part the change and offer little or no input. My caution here is, if you spot this type of reaction, it can lead swiftly to low morale, poor productivity and even absence from the workplace, as the reaction from some people morphs into emotional stress, so some empathy and inclusion is key to help encourage positivity and engagement
  3. Maintaining old habits: It’s easier to keep doing what you like, know and feel comfortable and confident with. In my experience this can be one of the toughest to nurture through, because old habits are like ‘comfort blankets’ and replacing these can often upset levels of confidence, and result in behaviours that resist new ways of doing things and often lead to influencing others to behave in this way. This can often mean that getting buy-in and acceptance of change is much harder and happens over a longer period. I’ve seen habits easily formed, but they’ve appeared hard to give up
  4. Behaviours in the workplace: Can manifest as passive and unsupportive, potentially negative and disruptive and similar in many ways to the symptoms of ‘maintaining old habits’. So, my steer is to target these behaviours and get buy in as swiftly as possible. I’ve done this through encouraging people to accept the role of champion, lead and other titles, this gives them responsibility and ownership of change, which encourages new behaviours and generally results in a positive outcome
  5. Culture: Holding on tight to the past, it’s the easier of the two, stick with what you know or what you don’t? This is why putting any changes in place needs to be introduced with a certain amount of empathy. Culture is driven by the personalities within your business and the behaviours that are used and shared with others. People who feel the need to hold onto the past, will definitely benefit from your open and honest communication strategy, so try to introduce ways to gain their confidence and trust, if you can nail this, the whole change experience will feel a whole lot easier for everyone

To summarise, start to prep and plan for your people and workplace changes now! Keep communication flowing and find ways to reach out to everyone, internally and externally. Be prepared for people to react to change in different ways and formulate detailed plans, with the aim to manage these reactions at pace. It’s important to identify where people are emotionally within the change curve, because not everyone is at the same place at the same time and your plans should take this into account. So, step back, be realistic with how much time is needed for people to adopt and adapt to your planned business changes. Work smart and include a continuity of service plan, resilience and health and well-being and any other areas you recognise are important and should be included into your change plans, as you continue to build your business future-fit!


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