The importance of getting change management right in a post-pandemic world
"The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow." — Rupert Murdoch, business magnate
· It’s certain business will need to keep changing and adapting, so how do leaders take teams through change effectively?
· Preparedness is key and change management skills are vital.
· Planning for wellbeing, prioritising communication, embracing hybrid work, and rethinking leadership are 4 main principles of good change management.
· Leaders are under pressure to create a positive workplace environment. 5 qualities they need are trustworthiness, empathy, genuineness, self-awareness, and a learning mindset.
Change Management Principles We Need Now
Around 80% of businesses must adapt to change every two to five years.
One in three CEOs failed to achieve the desired outcome from past transformation initiatives.(1)
As one expert says, transformation takes more than ‘a newsletter and a mug with the transformational slogan on every desk.’ Change can be emotional, and change fatigue can make more change difficult to stomach.
Put simply, any time we require adaptability in the workplace we need to manage that change with care.
In this article, we look at the key change management principles and leadership skills needed post-COVID, using research from experts including our authors and speakers.
Implementing a Focus on Mental Wellbeing
“There’s been so much change over the last few years in how we work, where we work, and what we work on.” – Lucinda Warren
It's important to recognise that change can be tough on employee wellbeing.
With record levels of burnout and exhaustion, the post-pandemic workforce has to prepare for further changes. Staff turnover is over 20% for a third of businesses, customer expectations and habits have shifted, and competition for every dollar seems harder.
Lucinda Warren, Chief People and Culture Officer at Vitaco Health (known for brands like Musashi and Nutra-Life) has taken her workforce through many changes and is now preparing them for international expansion.
She sees 2023 as an opportunity to inspire her workforce, and part of that is embedding Vitaco’s ‘Six Ways to Wellbeing’ program.
It includes the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’ to support mental health :
· Keep Learning - Encourage new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself.
· Be Active - Do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood.
· Take Notice - Remember the simple things that give you joy.
· Give - your time, your words, your presence and Connect - talk and Listen, be there, feel connected.
Vitaco has added:
· Nourish - Fuel to be at your best today and all your tomorrows.
This isn’t just a poster on the wall, The program includes a diverse range of initiatives, some arranged by Vitaco and others led by team members sharing their individual talents, diverse backgrounds, and personal experiences.
Takeaway: Make sure your change management planning includes a wellbeing strategy.
Have an Exceptional Communication Strategy
“Leaders of the future should consider building improved communication skills early.” - Mathew Donald
Research interviews with senior change managers in Australia identified communication as the most common factor related to organisational change success. (2)
Why would communication be so important to implement change successfully?
According to author and academic Dr Mathew Donald, it’s because information gaps can be interpreted with distrust. Worse, those gaps may be filled by those who may not be knowledgeable of the matters.
We saw how the best communicators were deliberately transparent in sharing news with the public during the pandemic, conducting regular live broadcasts on latest medical advice, news, and updates.
Dr Donald suggests business leaders also increase the number of communications and vary the types of communication to cater for each diverse group’s unique needs.
“It will not help an organisation if the leadership continues along with a rigid, blanket top-down type communication style.”
The linkages between communication, trust, and engagement, which form critical elements of leadership, are very important, Dr Donald says.
Embrace the Hybrid Work Model
“Employees have been through so much change during the pandemic that they may have saturated their capacity to adopt further change in their company.” - Alice Clohet (3)
Around 40% would rather quit their job than return to an office full-time, according to survey results. (4) so, where possible, embracing the hybrid work model is critical for post-pandemic leadership.
Work-from-home directives were fast-tracked in the pandemic, and this positively or negatively affected people’s professional and personal lives.
Leaders with pre-pandemic mindsets eyeing work-from-home with suspicion also had to change.
This is a good example of the change management skill of unlearning – the subject of our masterclass Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results with Barry O’Reilly.
And in his masterclass on the new world of work for Growth Faculty Keith Ferrazzi said post-pandemic leaders need to rethink what a “leader” and a “team” are.
Takeaway: What rethinking and unlearning is required to fully embrace the hybrid work model?
Re-Define What ‘Good’ Leadership Means
Post-pandemic leaders need candour, humility, generosity, and agility, says Keith Ferrazzi. As we’ve said they need excellent communication skills to excite people about further change.
Nigel Adams, author of ‘Match Fit for Transformation’, says leading for change is not a quick email or placing a newsletter and a mug with the transformation tagline on everyone’s desk.
It is, he says,
· Being present with your team during the change.
· Being continuous and consistent.
· Delivering information with authentic empathy.
· Being clear and concise.
· Making connections to the bigger picture – the purpose, the objectives, etc.
· Anchoring on what you know, not speculation.
· Being clear about the ‘what’s in it for me’ for different audiences.
· Setting expectations for the next stage.
· Being transparent and actively seeking participation in the change process.
· Being appreciative of those who are actively embracing the change.
MIT lecturer and author of Remote Inc. Bob Pozen told our masterclass that leaders must also have courage to stop counting hours and focus on output.
Takeaway: Embedding changes within company culture and practices takes sustained effort and requires continual attention.
Read on for the 5 qualities needed in a post-pandemic leader.
What Is a Post-Pandemic Leader?
Leadership has not been immune to all the changes of the pandemic. For a start, employees are placing more weight on workplace culture and ‘What’s in it for me?’
By and large they are less focused on their employer and far more focused on how proposed changes will affect their way of life.
Leaders are under pressure to create a positive workplace environment on top of all the usual demands of inspiring, coaching, and guiding their teams.
As well, leading is not necessarily confined to those who were in charge before the pandemic. Different skills such as digital competency, adaptability, and resilience have grown in importance, and those with these traits are more highly valued.
5 Vital Qualities of a Post Pandemic Leader
Post-pandemic leadership requires a lot of skill. Most of the 10 qualities shared by all successful leaders are needed to attract, engage, and retain employees, be alert to industry changes, and make quick decisions.
As a result, post-pandemic leaders borrow elements of all 10 different leadership styles but they dial up qualities like empathy and self-awareness.
Let’s find out what qualities are best to guide teams through change in this post-pandemic era.
Trust is formed from consistent behaviours, but we now know that the number of changes in the future will make that impossible.
Dr Mathew Donald says an example might be leadership previously promising that staff would not be reduced, and then having to reduce staff later.
A post-pandemic leader will be alert to the need for explanation and context for it not to be a trust matter.
“Leadership that explains that disruption will be sudden with impacts that potentially threaten the organisation’s survival may find that they achieve higher levels of trust than those that withhold information,” he says.
In a way, Takako Hirata has been a post-pandemic leader for half a decade. She leads remote global teams for her job as International Business Development head at ROHTO Pharmaceutical Company.
Takako told our masterclass that remote work can often be very isolating - even if it doesn’t feel that way for you as leader.
“You must work to reduce the feeling of emotional or physical distance between employees even if they are continents apart. Make them feel noticed and appreciated.”
This doesn’t sound like a lot, or hard, but it does require empathy to do it authentically.
“What rituals matter to you and your office?” she asks. “Remote working leaders should keep these and actively encourage the development of rituals.”
We all lead with the best intentions, but without self-awareness many of us are accidentally diminishing those in our teams.
Self-awareness is such a key factor in good leadership, we have a whole masterclass on the topic coming up in March with Michael Bunting – Vertical Growth: How Self-Awareness Transforms Leaders and Organisations.
“Self-aware people who embrace a vertical growth mindset see themselves as a continual work in progress and become progressively less afraid to look at themselves honestly.” – Michael Bunting
With self-awareness you are better able to understand the impact you have on those around you, a proven major factor in staff retention.
The pandemic made the workplace a much more level playing field, and only those who are genuine will gain respect from an increasingly cynical workforce.
A good place to start is Brené Brown’s research on the power of being vulnerable, and how vital that is to creating a psychologically safe workplace.
Certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator, Kylie Lewis says that in the wake of massive global disruption and the extreme changes to the way we live and work, psychological safety has become a point of discussion, curiosity and learning amongst executives, leaders and HR teams.
“In times of turbulence and stress, it’s the quality of the relationships with our colleagues with whom we’ve built trust through vulnerable conversations, empathy, connection and care that get us through.”
“Our people have risen to the challenge and learned to do things differently and faster.” – Steven Murphy
Steven Murphy manages the People and Culture team at Tourism Australia. We interviewed the learning and development head about change and post-pandemic leadership.
He and other HR heads told us “accelerating skills” was a top priority. He said the speed of change in workplaces was both exciting and disconcerting.
“Despite the difficulties, our people are more adaptable, resilient, and are better leaders...Our ability to flex and create new skills have been tested and strengthened.”
Growth Faculty helps his team deliver learning and development to leaders at Tourism Australia.
“The Growth Faculty provides our people with leadership inspiration and a trusted external platform to ensure we stay current.”
There are many elements to change and transformation. Preparing the organisation for change, crafting a vision and plan for change, implementing and then embedding the changes, and reviewing the results.
We learned during the pandemic how communication was essential at every step. Without a great communication strategy, employees, customers, and suppliers could be second-guessing what’s going on and what they are meant to be doing.
Effectively Navigate Through Change With Our Growth Faculty Pass
With a Growth Faculty Pass your whole organisation can be better prepared to tackle change head-on.
1. Wendy Tuohy, December 9, 2022, ‘As life speeds up and pandemic drags, burnout is biting hard’, Sydney Morning Herald online article.
2. Mathew Donald, 2019, ‘Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and Artificial Intelligence’ book.
3. Alice Clohet, 2022, ‘How businesses are conquering change in hybrid-work models’, PEX Network.
4. Evie Liu, 2022, ‘Why millions of workers who went remote during the pandemic don’t want to return to the office’, Financial Times website.
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