If the last two years has demonstrated anything at all, it is that continuous change is confronting us all, at a personal, family, work and societal level. Meeting the challenges of a changing world puts pressure upon all of us.
For leaders of business, the enforced changes of Covid19 and its lockdowns now confront them with the challenge of creating a new normal, within uncertainties that still generate fear and anxiety in some of their people. Such emotional turbulence threatens to immobilise their people or even themselves.
In the last few weeks, I have had a few conversations with HR Directors and senior executives of different organisations whose senior management have been discussing the merits of either:
- Boldly striking out with an ambitious strategy of growth and development of the business, calling for higher goals and targets, thus putting pressure on staff to step up, or
- Taking a cautious approach, practising patience and understanding of staff who’ve been ‘through the fire’ and require empathy and support to stabilise and improve their well-being by promoting a ‘steady as she goes’ strategy which aims to keep the organisation where it is, whilst it adopts hybrid working and other such novelties.
As an outsider, I’ve found it hard to offer an opinion as each organisation is different and its people are at different stages of the change cycle. By offering questions, more of the situation appears.
One feature that is appearing now is that organisations are losing staff (a surprisingly number of people are wanting to change career path, having gone through a unique and specific experiences in the lockdowns) or the organisation is experiencing difficulty in recruiting people to meet increasing customer demand.
In conversations about the where people are in relation to the changes, what follows seems to apply to the majority of organisations at this time. It seems that people are in the stage where anxiety is lessening and they’re showing interest in new options and possibilities. They are exploring the benefits of moving on and shifting their attention from the past to the future. They are looking to understand what the change means and how they can participate.
This is where leaders can offer good leadership by painting the picture of the future they would like to build and inviting their staff’s participation and engagement.
For people to show increasing excitement and enthusiasm for the future, they need to feel that they have a part to play and know that their contribution will be valued and recognised. It is at this point that leaders can play the most critical part and demonstrate good leadership, by helping people move into the next part of the Change Cycle – helping them learn new ways to work, new ways to communicate, new ways to build relationships and new ways to engage with clients.
Making change effective often calls for increasing skills in people, not just technically, but behaviourally to be able to perform their job better. This is a good thing! Use internal or external coaches to bring such new learning into the organisation. Change can be a vital tool to engage the workforce in new learning and increased capability
It is at this stage that people’s creativity can blossom, where new ideas need to be met with encouragement and support and where possible to be integrated with the organisation’s prior activities. Because for change to bring benefits, old routines, systems, policies and procedures need to be upgraded, evolved and changed. The employees who lived with the old systems are probably best placed to recommend which need changing and how. If they can see that the change brings improvements to themselves personally, people will find it easier to commit new energy and loyalty to their role, their team and the company.
For comfort to be restored and a sense of control to be re-established across the organisation, the people themselves need to own the change and the new systems, so as to ensure that it brings them enhanced flexibility, creativity, and risk taking. If leaders have done a good job, their vision and recommended changes will have been taken on and adapted by the employees who have to apply and integrate the changes into their every-day activities.
4 October 2021