We’re a year into this global pandemic, and I’ve written multiple articles and published numerous podcasts about how COVID has increased the pace of change, made businesses more open minded in how they operate, and accelerated digital transformation. While the roots of this change are unfortunate, the results of how it is propelling service forward are in many ways exciting. We’ve featured many success stories in the last year about how companies like Park Place Technologies, Munters, and Alfa Laval have navigated the turbulence masterfully in a way that has not only provided business continuity but powers business transformation.
But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we must temper our drive for change that brings such immense opportunity from a business perspective with some real empathy and patience for what our frontline workers are experiencing. Keep in mind that when you’re owning the vision and setting the strategy, it is exhilarating and exciting – when you’re on the receiving end it can be quite overwhelming.
To put yourself in the shoes of your frontline workers, you really only have to think a bit about how this last year has impacted you on a personal level. We all have our different stories, but I don’t know many individuals who haven’t struggled in some way – be it physical health, mental health, juggling work and children being home, the weight of being an essential worker, and so much more. However, as leaders, we are built to keep our eye on the prize and keep momentum building – and while I’m not at all proposing we grind that momentum to a halt, I think we need to take pause and consider the weariness of the workforce.
Balance Business Needs with The Human Experience
The business needs to continue evolving, perhaps now more than ever. I am simply suggesting that as we find ourselves a year into an incredibly taxing pandemic, we need to consider a bit more than we might normally what the human experience of our workforce looks like and be sure we adjust our business strategy to compensate for some of the needs of our people.
Change management is a topic we’ve discussed in detail for a long time, and with good reason – it is often where transformation efforts fall short, because we overlook or underprioritize the importance of creating not just compliance but adoption among our workforce. I would say that, today, change management is even more critical – because the frontline troops are weary. They’re weary from a year of worry about their health, their families, and their jobs. They’re weary from adapting to new circumstances and requirements, at work and at home. And I believe the onus is on us to make an extra effort in how we manage change to do whatever we can to minimize their weariness.
Adjust Your Strategy, Speed, and Style
Of course, what this looks like in every business and for each change will be unique, but there are three areas I would suggest you consider:
- Do you have a solid strategy for managing change? If you say no, well, start there. If yes, ask yourself when was that strategy set – pre- or post-COVID? It might be worth re-examining whether your strategy for managing change is ample for COVID circumstances. Aspects like clearly articulating your ‘why,’ over-communicating, and making ample time for soliciting feedback and addressing concerns are even more important today – you want to think about these steps through the lens of a workforce that is likely stressed, tired, and perhaps worried about how this change will impact their career with your company. It’s important to set extra steps, time, and resources in your strategy to ensure you’re not simply checking a change management box but really helping your employees through an addition to an already-taxing time.
- When COVID hit, the companies that reacted well did so nimbly and quickly. The speed of change early on was rapid, and it needed to be. But a year in, we’re all a bit more hardened than we were in those early days. While you may still need to apply speed to certain situations or project, where you can think about how you could perhaps slow down a degree or two in order to alleviate some stress, allow more time for adoption, and incorporate more change management into the project.
- I would argue this is the more important of the three to consider and there’s one word I’d use to summarize the style you need to consider to best address this workforce weariness: PERSONAL. In this new often-virtual world full of uncertainty and volatility, we’re all hungry for more human connection. More authenticity, more transparency, more empathy, more understanding. If you’ve used a textbook change process in the past, know that textbook may not resonate today the way it would have two years ago – you need to dig in and think about how to foster a more personal style of connection and management with your employees. The more personal you get, the better your chances of resonating and breaking away some of that weariness to create more acceptance, engagement, and buy-in.