Feel the fear and embrace the change

People are only born with two fears;
the fear of falling, and the fear of loud noises.

So, while we all understand that change is scary, we’ve only learnt that through experience – not because the principle of change is wrong. And if you’re reading this, then the chances are that you, like us, are a passionate business professional who positively loves the thought of finding their feet in a new challenge. But right now, the black swan event that is Covid-19 is teaching us just how ill-prepared the world has been for radical change, and just how terrifying and dislocating that fallout has been for so many people. But, as with any crisis, big or small, enduring adversity offers new opportunities to live and work, so this month we’re asking a two-pronged question; how can we equip businesses to find change easier, and what sort of opportunities can we find along the way?

Well, it’s clear that the Boy Scouts had it right when they decided on ‘be prepared’ for their slogan, and from watching the growing controversies around PPE, it’s a lesson that even governments could learn from. But from a business change management perspective, being prepared is more than a matter of stockpiling paperclips and getting your out-of-office on. Instead, it’s about creating a flexible structure that is ready to respond at a moment’s notice; like a superhero stripping down to their essentials in a phone box, businesses need to be able to switch gear seamlessly, and the secret to that lies in building a change-ready and accepting business culture, in which it is seen as something to embrace, not fear. And where does that process begin? Well, where every process begins – with people, because to make an organisation change-ready, you make people change-ready.

Rather than letting them fear change as an external ‘thing’ to be forced upon them, a little like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, employees who are equipped to understand that they can all be change champions will, with the right attitude and resources, become the change itself. Everything that they welcome, is welcomed. Everything that they understand, is understood.  Everything that they do well, is done well. So, by equipping the individual to understand, embrace and even enjoy change, you are setting a positive cycle in place. But in order to make that happen, there are a few key pointers to follow.

Start before the storm – Research has shown that change readiness actually declines during times of uncertainty, so rather than trying to make it okay when it’s not okay, try making it the norm during times of calm. Caroline Chavez, a leading career change coach and strategist outlines this beautifully when she says,

By embedding change management into all projects, it creates a norm for employees to expect change and also expect for it to be managed well.[1]

People tend to trust what they know and do regularly, so small changes help to create that change-ready culture. These dry-run drills for shifting things around keep people engaged with the positive possibilities that change brings and helps guard against complacency.

Leadership at every level – Last month, we talked about programme sponsors, but the messages from that apply to leaders at every level. Attitudinal change is key to inspiring those around and below to follow in those footsteps, and leading a team with positive and strong intention is always a key factor in helping with the change process. A white paper from PMO Solutions spells this out clearly, when it says,

‘Trusted leadership is a requirement to build confidence in the proposed solutions.[2]

Trusted leadership can, of course, be broken down further into varying leadership styles, so look to transformational leadership for the best change-ready strategies. As opposed to transactional leadership, which works on the reward v punishment model, transformational leadership positively encourages autonomy and employee ownership in the workplace, which is perfect for imbuing people with the qualities they’ll need to draw deeply upon should a big change come quickly.

The Positives of the Pandemic
Whatever challenges Covid-19 leaves behind, it will also leave us with many opportunities, from sustaining the momentum of the sense of community and support, to making critical business decisions, so the time is ripe to start renewing what your business could look like.

Returning to the (remote) workplace
Remote working is one of the biggest opportunities for businesses, and the attraction of its reduction in expenses and overheads will not have been missed by anyone. But fears of the emotional toll of working alone are also on the agenda, so tactics to tackle these are also necessary. Preparing people to build up new national – or even international – connections from the comfort of the home office will help them to widen their professional and social scope at the literal touch of a button, while having remote working in place as a default means less logistical upheaval should change strike again. Remember – business resilience is not built in a building; it’s built by connections.

Refine your time
An article by Forbes[3]  showing people spend up to 23 hours a week in meetings is a sobering one, and now is the time to cut back on flabby pleasantries that add no value. By moving meetings online, you’ll streamline the process, the people involved, and the costs, too.

Examine your operations
Global business leader Accenture say that almost a third of executives rarely update their operating model[4], meaning that if this was just business as usual, it might be a sub-standard business as usual. Seizing the moment to go back to the guts of your business for a thorough review may seem like hard work, but it will certainly reap rich rewards if it results in improved operating, profit and business continuity models.

 A PMO can help
As political talk turns to coming out of lockdown, businesses face a huge change challenge in resuming operations, but by working with a PMO, you really are investing in the longevity of your business. From setting up new workstreams, to taking charge of process governance, PMOs work at the very heart of the business to make sure it is as healthy as it can be.

Project Priority
Prioritisation of projects may have to shift quickly, with high-risk ones moving to the back of the queue to concentrate on those which will bring stability to the business, strengthen short-term profits and unlock cash flow quickly. A PMO can help you identify what this might look like and engage the right stakeholders to ensure this runs smoothly.

An Eye For Numbers
Managing costs is going to be vital, whether it’s a painful reality of shedding staff to steady an otherwise sinking ship or assessing how to refine your business model. A PMO can assist with that at all levels, communicating difficult messages where necessary, and designing and maintaining new processes for more rigorous financial reporting which will help bring clarity to your bottom line.

Clarify Your Comms
Businesses can sometimes struggle to communicate difficult messages, particularly when fully-formed decisions haven’t yet been made, but PMOs are skilled at creating strategic communication strategies that prioritise transparency and focus, keeping people engaged and feeling valued.

Business Backflips
Agility is not a new business concept, but it’s one of the most important now that the sands are shifting beneath us all. So, going forward with a flexibility of both response and tangibles, as well as a willingness to delivery your core business processes differently (or possibly remotely) are going to be critical to success. An effective and highly agile PMO, with its tug-ship ability to turn things around quickly has an unparalleled skillset when it comes to helping big businesses do this.

But probably what PMOs understand the best is that the most crucial factor for helping people through change is a growth mindset that helps them understand and focus on the positives of it. And while internal PMOs definitely have a range of capabilities, an external PMO is often the best choice for big change, as it comes with an independent viewpoint that saves it from company politics, and while it’s invested in the success, being external gives it just the right amount of distance to work objectively to find the best solutions.

So, trust in an external PMO to roll out the right mindset to help your people embrace the future, however uncertain that might be.

[1] https://blogs.perficient.com/2019/03/05/start-building-change-ready-culture/

[2] https://www.pmsolutions.com/white_papers/White_Paper_Creating_a_Change-Ready_Organization.pdf

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeroenkraaijenbrink/2020/01/07/jumpstarting-2020-five-simple-tips-for-more-effective-meetings/#8cd4b9a52c87

[4] https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/insights/operations/coronavirus-effective-business-operations