Typically, when employers undertake major changes to how and where employees do their jobs, it is only after copious planning and careful implementation. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic eliminated this luxury in a matter of days for most organizations.
That does not mean that you still cannot apply change management — a mindful and open approach to organizational transformation — to your workforce challenges. Here are some fundamentals to focus on:
Communication. Clearly communicate to employees how things are changing (or have changed) and what you anticipate the effects will be. In difficult times, it is particularly important to be as honest and transparent as possible about changes, even those that may frustrate workers.
For instance, many employers have had to furlough some employees and order others to work from home, while a certain percentage of essential on-site workers may still report to offices and facilities. Explain the rationale behind these decisions and discuss the potential benefits to the organization — such as preserving cash flow, protecting everyone’s health, and maintaining operations.
Exercise caution and discretion. You do not want to overpromise anything because so much uncertainty remains, and a great deal depends on the nature of your organization and how it is affected by the pandemic. But you do need to keep employees informed.
Input and feedback. Under normal circumstances, an employer would obtain input about a proposed change from employees at all levels and departments before it implemented the initiative. Once again, the sudden impact of the pandemic has largely negated this option.
Nonetheless, even if you have already established major changes, offer employees the means to give feedback on how things are going and share their concerns without fear of judgment. It is possible a change that appears relatively minor — say, working remotely — could significantly affect the morale of an employee who is accustomed to interacting with colleagues in person.
In addition, as you consider further changes, solicit as much input as is feasible. Remember, the more that employees can contribute to the change process, the more likely they are to take ownership of the ultimate change.
Training or ‘upskilling.’ Employees often fear change because they are not sure whether they will be able to master a new process or technology. Provide the education and resources they will need to successfully adapt, even if doing so means giving them time away from normal responsibilities.
In some cases, you may need to offer full-blown training to help workers learn a new technology platform or function in a new role. In other cases, they may simply need ‘upskilling,’ which means not so much learning a new skill as improving skills they already have.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put unparalleled pressure on employers to change in ways they may have never considered or wanted. Look to tried-and-true change management approaches to ease this burden. Our firm can provide assistance on using the right metrics to make tough workforce decisions and measure productivity.