Change and loss are interwoven
I was recently a guest speaker at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education on the topic of culture change. The topic resonated very much with the participants whom were from a company facing changes themselves today.
Change can start with a choice or come from a forced situation. The pandemic that brought so much death and sadness also brought many changes to the business world. It is a grim reminder that the foundations of change management came from the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (“On Death and Dying”, 1969). Her ‘five stages of grief’ explored the emotional path people go through after the death of a loved one. Since then, we learned that people going through other significant changes in their life experience a very similar change curve.
“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus
Perhaps the biggest change businesses made in response to the pandemic was the quick adoption of “work from home”. Even companies that never considered that possible found ways to make it work. But now vaccinations are making it possible to look at re-opening offices. However, some companies like Morgan-Stanley are looking to return to the way things were before…with no remote-work options https://www.bbc.com/news/business-57487963.
Google recently retreated from its position of bringing everyone back into the office to allowing many to work remotely. But why? The reasoning for remote work is different now that it was at the start of the pandemic. Instead of a necessity to get any work done, it is now seen to provide additional benefits. For example, a way to access specialized skills from different geographies, tap into diverse talent pools, and enable more flexibility for benefit of the employees.
We see many other companies are embracing hybrid options. Workers come into an office three or so days a week and work remotely for the rest. While this works for the majority, there are some employees who like to always come into the office. Then there are others who want to work remotely all the time. At least the infrastructure and experiences are there to enable all options for many office workers.
Using what you learned to drive change in day-to-day behaviors
Now is a great time for leaders to look at their learnings from the past 12 months or so. What is working and what can be improved? Be sure to consider the human side (performance, rewards, coaching) as well as systems (online collaboration tools, meeting cadence, decision-making). Celebrate what you have accomplished, keep what is working, and change what you need to adapt.
To change a culture, you have to change the day-to-day behaviors. Be clear about the visible things people do that make up the culture you want to have. While many people picked up the behavior of using video calls for everything, it did create the very real problem of “Zoom fatigue”. But just because you CAN have video for every call and meeting does not mean you HAVE to use it. Define what few meetings where video is mandatory and let people decide for themselves the rest of the time. It is the leader who must start role modelling the change. Using a change management approach can give you the process and tools to make the changes stick.