Many things can put your business at risk, including changes to your organisation, people or technology. The current pandemic has put many businesses under unprecedented pressure, and some even teetering on the brink of survival. Crises like this quickly turn change management from a best practice discipline into an urgent and critical business activity.
The purpose of change management is to help you introduce, implement and embed changes in your business, product, process or system in a controlled and coordinated way, avoiding issues and risks along the way. As such, change management can boost your business’ resiliency, speed up recovery from critical issues, and help you create contingency strategies for situations where change does not go to plan.
The pandemic highlighted the value of effective change management, and we find that businesses and people are still struggling to navigate all the changes happening to them and around them. Organisations need to make sure that their employees are resilient enough to deal with change on a continuous basis. “There is nothing permanent except change” – Heraclitus.
For change to occur, however, there often needs to be a burning platform driving that change. As a human being, if you are overweight, you will continue eating the way you always have if you are happy with your circumstances. The moment a doctor, however, says that if you do not start losing weight you will suffer a heart attack within the next six months, there is a shift – there is your burning platform. You will change your behaviours; diet, exercise, sleep more, whatever it takes.
It is similar for organisation; there needs to be a clear case for change. Why are we changing? What will the benefits be? If we do not change, what will be the impact? If the impact is big enough, change management will happen. Of course, it will not be easy and there will still be resistance, but as long as the burning platform is big enough, the employees will see the benefits.
Organisations, however, need to be open and flexible to change their approach. You are either a speedboat organisation or a cargo ship organisation – a speedboat can pivot and turn around quickly, while a cargo ship needs to start planning and put actions into place long before they are going to turn. Whether you are a speed boat or a cargo ship depends on where your organisation is in its journey, which in turn determines how quickly change can happen; good indicators include your business maturity, future-readiness, and how previous change was accepted.
Change management though tends to fail when it is not leader led. Whether it is restructuring, culture change, or a change in reporting lines, leaders need to drive it and be at the forefront, communicating it effectively. Change management, however, is not just communication; leaders need to walk the journey with their employees, feel the pain, experience the joys and gain a clear understanding of what is working or not. Employees need to feel safe, be heard, and be part of the change not an outsider looking from the outside in.
Creating a safe environment takes time, energy and the right approach, such as the “SCARF” Model developed in 2008 by David Rock. SCARF stands for the five key ‘domains’ that influence our behaviour in social situations. These are:
- Status – our relative importance to others.
- Certainty – our ability to predict the future.
- Autonomy – our sense of control over events.
- Relatedness – how safe we feel with others.
- Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.
The model is based on neuroscience research that implies that these five social domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival. The SCARF Model can help you to minimise perceived threats, and to maximise the positive feelings generated through rewards when working alongside others. Doing this can help us to collaborate better, to coach people, and to provide more effective training and feedback.
The coronavirus has forced organisations to look at things differently because the world changed in the blink of an eye. Where they were in control previously, they could push back against change, however, where they were not, as was the case with COVID, they either changed or seized to exist. The past year has made many organisations realise that they need to rethink everything. However, if they are not clear as to why they are changing and the benefits they will reap through change, they are going to struggle.