Change management principles to dominate during disruption

Speed is everything. And that’s even more true in today’s landscape amid COVID-19 because, if your business can learn to effectively adapt and lead through disruption, you’ll find yourself on the other side, healthier, stronger and better. But just how do you go about reinventing your company so it can weather any storm?

My article examines three change management principles you can harness to ensure that your business is nimble, can respond quickly to change, and lessen the impact on critical business areas, advantages with long-term value for any company or industry. Learn how to be agile, quick to respond and customer-centric, using the momentum of a turbulent time to grow and develop your business.

1. Be Agile

Agility is an absolutely critical function in the new way of doing business because regulations, customers and technology evolve at a never-before seen rate. In order to ensure that your change management approach leads to the desired outcome, Deloitte suggests that a resilient leadership, a central response office, partnering with stakeholders, communicating on-the-go, focusing on blended learning, and employing new digital ways of working are necessary to lead through disruption. Here’s how a few of these suggestions look in action. 

To function as a resilient leadership team, you must use a people-first mindset when responding to challenges; employ cross-functional teams to form a central response approach so that key experts have a voice in the decision-making process; review IT infrastructure, ensuring that you have the tools necessary to do business; and create and review key performance metrics that will help align strategy with results.

As your business changes, and teams and departments must shift, it’s critical to have a communication system that supports the company through disruption. An inclusive communication strategy will ensure that key stakeholders, employees, management, clients, vendors and other important personnel know what’s going on. Factors to consider include the messaging, the frequency of such messages, and the channels on which you’ll communicate.

Remember Kodak? The former leader in photography? They fell hard and fast because they weren’t agile about transferring business focus to digital photography needs. As a result, they’re a classic case study in how not to respond when your industry shifts. Blockbuster is another great example. As video streaming gained momentum, instead of pivoting, they held on even tighter to VHS video—and even passed up purchasing Netflix for $50M, now valued at nearly $190B. Rest in peace, Blockbuster.

Whether agility means changing how you reach your customers or, like Airbnb, making significant changes to their workforce and customer experience during COVID, it’s a vital element in helping your business weather the storm of uncertain times, just as the speed of response is critical to your success.

2. Be Lightning-Fast

Factors like speed-to-market, quickly responding to customer and market change, and acting on data have always been a contributor to revenue growth and sustainability. But in today’s strange, new world, the need for speed cannot be understated. 

When COVID-19 hit, businesses were forced to change their approach to business, serving customers, working with vendors, and collaborating in the workforce – all of these processes would have failed miserably had speed not been a factor. Companies that successfully adapted to the necessary changes focused on making decisions faster, improving productivity, and finding and employing new technologies and data. These factors were also the impetus for innovation and acceleration.

For example, during COVID-19, Telco redeployed 1,000 employees from their stores and trained them to do sales in three weeks. A U.S. retailer had been planning on launching curbside delivery over 18 months, and was able to get it out the door in two days. As a final example of speed, an industrial factory managed to run at more than 90 percent capacity even after losing 60 percent of its workforce.

Companies that effectively sped up their decision-making due to COVID-19 were the ones that maintained, and in some cases even accelerated, business success. According to McKinsey & Company, there are nine ways your company can become faster, which will result in a reinvented organization that’s built for speed:

  1. Speeding up the decision-making process and delegating decisions to other people.
  2. Executing with excellence.
  3. Cultivating partnerships.
  4. Flattening the structure so there’s less bureaucracy.
  5. Creating agile, empowered teams.
  6. Making hybrid work a viable option.
  7. Revealing future leaders.
  8. Learning how to “learn.”
  9. Rethinking the role of leaders and CEOs.

With regard to speeding up decisions, during the pandemic, organizations figured out they could make decisions faster without negatively affecting their business – by holding fewer meetings, having less decision-makers on them, and preparing less-detailed agendas and presentations, welcomed changes for the meeting-averse everywhere.

Certainly agility and speed are two factors that contribute to effective change management during disruption. However, taking the value of your customers into consideration is also impactful.

3. Be Customer-Centric

Communication is critical during disruption and it’s a key to effective change management because it keeps your teams, vendors and customers connected and heard. Your framework for communication and business continuity must take into consideration what your customers need to hear from you. 

In the case of a pandemic that strikes across the globe, the primary message your customers want to hear is one of comfort. They want to be reassured, and they desire specific information from you that describes how you’re responding to the crisis. In general, during a season of change, more communication is better, as your customers will want to know if access to your services and products will change, which is especially important if your business is deemed mission-critical.

As the health and safety for ourselves and others continues throughout the pandemic, there are ways your brand can effectively communicate during and after a crisis:

  1. Use your platform and marketing channels to educate. 
  2. Offer products or services at a lower price point – or free, if you can.
  3. Use your facilities or technologies to help make COVID-19-related products.
  4. Help bridge the gap that social distancing is causing. (For example, Chipotle gave 3,000 fans the opportunity to mingle with celebrities on a Zoom meeting.)

So how do you know when your marketing messaging should change? 

Consider the experience of KFC, when it was slapped on the wrists by the UK Advertising Standards Authority for airing its “finger licking good” ads during COVID-19 – an obvious faux paus. Consumers agree that brands should not ignore the pandemic; acknowledging what’s currently going on in the world and how it is impacting people’s lives is important. And it’s a factor KFC would have been wise to consider. However, your business shouldn’t swing too far on the other side of the pendulum, as being off-brand and losing authenticity—or, worse yet, trying to take advantage of the situation—will not bode well for you either. Consumers want real solutions – and they’re willing to pay for them.

The stakes for communication during a crisis like a pandemic or economic downturn are high and the risks are big. It’s worth considering how your messages and ads will come across during times of crisis and invest extra in research and testing, training frontline communicators like social media managers or customer service representatives on proper messaging. Think about who your customers are and the emotions or scenarios in which they’ll encounter your messaging. The best approach is to be real, authentic and helpful in order to avoid alienating your customers.

Dominating Disruption

Your approach to change management during difficult times will maintain your business’ momentum, and it may even shift it drastically for the better. Consider how to become agile, speedy, and communicate in a customer-centric way, and you’ll be able to endure challenging seasons, developing processes and skills that will serve your business in a post-pandemic era and beyond.

Share your take on the best change management principles during COVID-19 with a comment below, and follow my blog and LinkedIn for additional insights.

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