COVID-19 is easily the biggest social, health, and economic crisis in living memory. Throughout 2020, many businesses struggled to navigate the challenges associated with managing a completely remote workforce.
For business owners, this meant ensuring their staff had access to the tools and data they needed to perform their job remotely. However, it also meant helping their workforce manage the stress, anxiety, and loneliness of living through a global pandemic.
Now, many businesses are facing a new challenge: how to manage the return to the office. If this transition has you in crisis management mode, then you’re not alone!
In uncertain times, traditional planning processes may not always be possible, or even advisable. How can you plan for the future, when new developments and information forces you to continuously rethink those plans?
Thankfully, you don’t have to completely abandon traditional plans and processes – you just need to tweak your approach! In this article, we’ll help you take control of the situation. By the end of this article, you’ll have a three step plan for transforming crisis management into successful change management.
Highly adaptive decision-making: The key to successful crisis management?
During a crisis, you often need to implement change quickly, without adequate time to prepare your staff. This can lead to confusion, uncertainty, and poor adoption rates amongst your workforce.
To maximize your chances of achieving successful, long-term change during a crisis, it’s vital that your change management activities are highly responsive. All of your activities should speak deeply to what your workforce needs right now, as this will encourage them to respond positively to the change – even if you’ve given them little time to prepare.
In change management, this approach is referred to as highly adaptive decision-making. This is a simple, but effective process that encourages you to reflect on the current situation and identify the most effective action, while respecting the time constraints of crisis management.
With adaptive decision-making, the goal is to identify a promising solution and implement it as efficiently as possible, while acknowledging that you may need to adjust and refine your approach in response to unfolding events and new information. You may even need to learn from your mistakes as you implement the change.
This is in stark contrast to traditional change management. To help you get started with this radical new approach, let’s look at a simple 3 step adaptive decision-making workflow that can help you manage returning to the office. As part of this workflow, you’ll ask yourself three questions:
This question encourages you to reflect on the situation – what problem(s) are you currently facing?
For many businesses, the biggest challenge is transitioning from 2020’s remote working model. Perhaps all of your staff can safely return to the office, or maybe you’re taking a staggered approach, for example giving your staff the option to work remotely a few days a week.
Regardless of your approach, for most businesses this is a return to the workplace – and not a return to normality. There are additional health and safety measures that your staff need to follow, particularly when it comes to social distancing. This may mean using physical separators such as partitions between workstations, staggering breaks, or setting a “maximum occupancy” limit for your meeting rooms.
To minimize contact, you may even be operating a strict scheduling system for staff who previously worked a regular 9-5 schedule.
For your employees, all of this change represents a huge challenge. In our example, let’s imagine that your staff are struggling to meet their productivity targets while adhering to all these new guidelines. Your employees are confused by the rules, and struggling to stay motivated.
Currently, you’re firmly in crisis management mode and responding to problems such as missed deadlines as and when they reach a boiling point. However, with uncertain times still ahead, this isn’t a short-term problem – and no business can survive in a constant state of crisis! If you’re going to navigate these turbulent times, it’s vital that you transition away from crisis management, and start taking steps to implement successful long-term change.
As part of this what phase, you’ll need to identify the barrier that’s preventing the desired change. Here, it often helps to consider ADKAR, which is an acronym for the five elements of successful change: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.
In our scenario, a lack of Knowledge may be to blame. For many businesses, the transition back to the office environment is uncertain and ever-changing, and your employees may be unsure how they’re supposed to act.
There may also be confounding factors such as a lack of communication, documentation, or clear business processes about how employees can meet their targets while respecting the new health and safety guidelines.
If you’re scheduling employees in an effort to limit social contact, then your staff may also be struggling to access this information. They may even be frustrated and confused by last-minute shift changes and miscommunications regarding when they’re expected to visit their physical place of work.
By identifying this barrier to change, you’ll know exactly where to focus the bulk of your efforts throughout the decision-making process.
2. So what?
Now you’ve analyzed the situation, it’s time to decide how to manage it! During this so what phase, you’ll explore the situation while being mindful of any opportunities that exist, and the potential pitfalls.
Let’s imagine that your employees cannot access the same apps, tools, and technologies outside of the office. As with many businesses, your staff currently have the option to work from home, either permanently or on a part time basis. For example, if an employee is considered high risk or they’re waiting to be vaccinated, they may feel safer working from home for the foreseeable future.
Immediately, this poses a problem as your staff will have access to different functionality and data, depending on whether they’re working from home, or from the office. This will damage productivity, as your staff will constantly need to find workarounds when they’re operating remotely.
However, this can also have a disastrous impact on communication. Without access to a common platform, your team will struggle to collaborate. This can result in confusion and frustration, and damage the relationships between co-workers.
As an employer, you can invest time and effort into creating clear documentation, processes, or a shift schedule that promises to keep everyone safe and productive. However, this is only half the battle, as your staff still need a way to access this information! If you don’t publish these resources to a modern, cloud-based platform, then your remote workers will struggle to access the information they need. This is a surefire way to remain trapped in crisis management mode.
In this scenario, the failure to provide a common platform is causing the lack of Knowledge. To solve this problem, you need to create helpful resources and ensure these resources are accessible to all your staff.
3. Now what?
This step is where you determine the next best actions you should take, in order to support your staff and resolve the problem.
If you get this step right the first time, then great! However, highly adaptive decision-making acknowledges that time pressures are an inevitable part of crisis management. Searching for the perfect next step may result in significant time delays, but when a crisis strikes you’ll rarely have time to waste!
Highly adaptive decision-making encourages you to move quickly from conception, to implementing your ideas. This means you should be prepared to learn as you go, or even to rethink your strategy along the way.
Continuing our scenario, you might decide to implement a new cloud-based platform. This will ensure your staff have access to the same tools, applications, and data regardless of
their geographical location. Many modern cloud platforms also provide enterprise-level communication tools such as Microsoft Teams. These tools can be invaluable for delivering your resources, while also helping co-workers collaborate during this period of transition.
Crisis management: The next steps
In our scenario, your staff now have access to all the tools they need to be productive, regardless of whether they’re working from home or the office. This is a great start, but providing access to a modern enterprise platform isn’t enough – your staff need to actually use it!
After rolling out the platform, it’s possible your staff may struggle to extract value from it. They may even start slipping back into old habits, including old applications!
In this scenario, the solution may be to organize some staff training, or identify individuals who can become advocates, driving adoption of your new platform. At this point, you’ll be unclear about the way forward, and are once again facing tough time constraints.
Fortunately, you now have access to a three step plan that can help you identify the best next steps. Simply return to stage one of our crisis management plan, and repeat the what, so what, and now what steps.
By diligently repeating the entire decision-making process every time you encounter an issue, you can slowly transform even the most serious and complex crisis into a successful, long-term change.