COVID-19 series: Conducting Organizational Change Management Activities in Times of Pandemic

Have you been asked to come up with an agile version of the change management strategy? Have you been getting pushbacks to complete all your regular CM assessments, planning, and activities?

Well, whether your answer is yes or no, as a Change Management practitioner you need to know when to scale down and when to scale up your change management activities.

Let’s make some assumptions

Before getting to “How we can offer a scaled-down and agile version of change management activities, let’s review some assumptions.

  1. Organizational Change Management should be flexible

Change Management as a discipline can be very flexible. We, Change Management practitioners, have all experienced it. We have all heard “We only have $X for Change Management”, “There are only X weeks to go live”, “Oh no, you can’t book meetings with that group”, “The project sponsor is very busy”, “we only need 2 hours of your time”.

This list can go on and on, but I am sure you got the message.

  1. Change Management maturity is low in many organizations

We should also acknowledge that in most organizations, Organizational Change Management is a relatively new discipline i.e. the organization’s “Change Maturity” is low.

In these organizations, organizational change is a “check the box” activity and we are far from having a common understanding of Change Management, accepting it as a discipline, integrating it into our processes, and most importantly internalizing it.

  1. Change adoption can be increased by reducing Resistance to change

We can define Change Management as a set of actions to take in order to support individuals impacted by a change going through the change journey. These actions aim to prepare individuals with the goal of reducing or eliminating resistance to change to increase the likelihood of change adoption.

  1. Sense of urgency can decrease resistance to change

Individuals start moving toward changes when they feel a sense of urgency. If I see or smell the smoke, I am more likely to evacuate the building than I just hear the fire alarm. And remember that we are not judging behaviors but stating the hypothetical behavior of individuals and the concept of sense of urgency.

I used to teach English as a second language in large corporations, and my best classes were the ones I had individuals who needed to pass a test to get a degree as it was required for their next career move. They felt the sense of urgency, as they knew if they didn’t pass, they weren’t able to get the promotion.

What were the impacts of COVID-19 on our Change Management Practice?

COVID 19 is scary enough for most of us that it created some sort of general sense of urgency. We all know that since the beginning of the crisis, there is no time for resistance. At the time I started writing this article, in Canada and many other countries impacted by COVID-19, people were working from home. Most of us were asked to work from home as of the day after the decision to close offices was made and we did it.

Go back one year ago, when there was no scary virus out there, and imagine you had wanted to close a single office in your company and ask everyone to work from home. You would have needed months of planning, teams to collaborate, leaders and managers to engage, Change Management plans to develop, and resistance to manage.

The next question is: ‘’Do we still need OCM?’’

If we agree that resistance to change and scale of a crisis have a negative correlation, does it mean that we do not need Change Management during big crises like what we are experiencing now, i.e. COVID 19?

This may not be pleasant for everyone, but the answer is “Of course we still need Change Management!”. People may not resist the change, but they still need to understand what is changing and why they need to understand what is expected from them and what’s in it for them. They also need to learn the required skills to do what is required from them, there need to be job aids, forms, and how-to documents. There needs to be a proper support mechanism and process in place, and more.

Another consideration is “sustaining the change.” When people see the burning platform they most likely accept to change, but this does not mean that this change will sustain. A good change management practice can help to sustain the change when the platform is not burning anymore.

So, what needs to be done differently?

We need to remember that change management needs to be very flexible. This means that:

  • We need to focus on what is absolutely necessary to support our people as we have resistance to change at our favor.
  • We need to come up with an MVCM, i.e. a Minimum Viable Change Management plan. We may not, I am emphasizing on “may”, need to complete all our assessments and generate different dashboards before starting to conduct our change management activities.
  • Focusing on what our people need now that they are not resisting the change and remember to close the loop to ensure that there is reinforcement in place, or at least planned for when the crisis is over.

In conclusion

It has been quite a journey. From Communications to Crisis Management, Change Management for me has taken a whole other level of engagement, maturity, and accountability. We did in the space of a few months what may not have been possible in 12 to 18 months in ‘’normal times’’.

Let me know what you think about the article, how we can help you and your organization in this time of need.

Remember, when people work together in collaboration, they can produce incredible levels of change.


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