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Change management is the key to leading your company on the way to a “new normal” in 2021

Almost all companies around the world have seen organizational changes in one way or another in the past year. As nations begin to heal, conversations about the “new normal” beyond the pandemic seem like a realistic possibility rather than a distant dream. For many companies, it is unclear what this working world could look like after the pandemic. Change is emerging, however, and effectively managing this next phase will either fail or fail an organization. To make this transition as smooth as possible, companies need to implement compelling and practical change management strategies that can guide them through this next phase in 2021.

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What is change management?

Change management is the general term used to describe the approaches companies take to short and long-term organizational changes. Both are often required for businesses that want to survive and thrive. Change management evaluates the phases a company goes through in its development and uses various methods to optimize the use of resources, improve business processes and, if necessary, reallocate budgets to move a company forward.

When you start implementing change management in an organization, you should look at the models that are already in place. Some common change management models are: Lewin’s Change Management Model, the McKinsey 7-S Model, Kotters Theory, and ADKAR. This list is by no means exhaustive, and the benefits of using one model over another depend entirely on the company’s preferences and their specific needs. However, it is important for executives to recognize that simply implementing a change management strategy is not a complete solution. In fact, more than 70% of organizational change management process initiatives have been found to fail, without the added challenge of a global pandemic and a dispersed workforce.

Where should I start?

Businesses all over the world have been forced to switch online one way or another. With this shift, employees have started to see the benefits and pitfalls of working remotely, and as a result, workforce expectations have shifted as well. Now, many companies are in limbo, unsure of what their “new normal” will be when pandemic restrictions ease. For change management to be truly successful, companies need to make a firm decision on how to proceed.

The fact is, it is no longer possible to just go back to the office and expect the employees to continue as if nothing had happened. Likewise, having a completely removed workforce may not be a practical option. It is likely that many will opt for a hybrid work model (a mix of office-based, semi-remote, and remote workers).

Regardless of which option companies choose, there are some basic first steps to be taken in beginning any long-term organizational change, the largest of which is to pinpoint the needs of the workforce.

Immediate hurdles may arise, such as the fact that some members of the team have entered the company remotely over the past year and may not have experienced the old normal to know what to expect from the new normal. Unlike in March 2020, however, companies have the luxury of time. For a change management strategy to be successful, it is critical that executives take the time and use the plethora of digital communication tools available to them to really listen to the concerns of the workforce and ensure that all voices are present in the company are heard regardless of whether they have been with the company for ten years or ten weeks. Change managers (those chosen to drive the transition within the company) should first inform employees of the potential for changes in the company and establish channels to enable open and transparent discussions.

By working with the workforce prior to a transition, it becomes much easier for change managers to find the weaknesses that the entire organization, but also individuals within the organization, are struggling with, and to provide a strategy with actionable solutions that can help Drive business forward.

Change management, especially when implementing something as novel as a hybrid office, requires organizations to do the impossible and plan how to address both the obvious and the yet-to-be-discovered challenges. Given the great uncertainty, just having a plan may not be enough. Organizational changes of this magnitude require that companies view agility and flexibility as basic principles, develop multiple strategies and ensure that no stone is left unturned. By planning every possible outcome, companies are in the best position to address the many changing versions of what the “new normal” in 2021 could offer.

Take it slow and set the right expectations

As with all things in life, changes – and organizational changes in particular – don’t take place in a vacuum. Change management teaches us that big changes like this don’t have to and shouldn’t happen overnight (unless, of course, there is a global pandemic). Preparing, making sure employees have realistic expectations of the timeframe and execution, and the flexibility to allow the company to transition over time are key to any change being successful.

Through its inherent focus on structure and consideration for everyone within the organization, change management aims to minimize potential problems employees might have with a proposed change. However, it goes without saying that every decision made has an impact across the company. Consequently, inclusiveness and transparency must play a key role in any plans that are implemented.

For companies facing change this year, it can be a daunting prospect, but using change management to promote transparency and openness within the workforce doesn’t have to be so daunting. Small short-term changes can have big effects in the long run. For one, transparency can be built into company policy fairly easily as long as it starts from the top. This can mean holding meetings where employees are given the opportunity to ask management questions that they normally cannot ask (this is especially important if they are concerned about the upcoming changes in the company and their role shifting forward). In addition, leaders can promote inclusivity by encouraging active listening in teams and empowering employees to participate in decision-making where possible. This can also be achieved remotely through the use of interactive polls and polls that are designed to enable executives to make better and broader decisions for the company. Business leaders should also make a habit of sharing critical company information, whether it be new customers or financial results, and ensuring that adequate communication channels have been established through the use of new technology. All of these small changes will be invaluable in moving the company forward on the path to new and exciting ways of working, be it hybrid or completely remote work.

In the past, change management has traditionally been viewed as an isolated project that is only implemented when changes are required. More than ever, it is important that companies view change as part of their DNA and use the various models available to implement all kinds of changes, not just large organizational ones. As 2021 progresses, change management will be an essential tool to guide companies through all sorts of new and undiscovered challenges. Implementing change management to help companies embrace change and create an environment that welcomes transparency and openness will, in the long run, allow companies to become more agile as they approach future change and have a solid foundation create to guide them through the next stages of the pandemic and hopefully after its final end.

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