Siri Maldonado, Director, People Engagement, discusses if change ever ends, how long organizations should expect a change initiative to last, and what additional pieces are required to achieve sustained change and drive lasting benefits.
The pandemic has pushed change into the forefront and we are constantly hearing phrases and words such as, “new normal”, or “unprecedented” and “uncertain times”. But what is the new normal, and how does the new normal go hand-in-hand with unprecedented times?
At Harbinger, we have always known a little secret… change is constant and is a part of our lives every day. Every one of us experiences change daily, from Apple software updates to the introduction of a new routine, or cancellation of an appointment, change is always around.
While we know that change is constant, the magnitude and pace of change that we are seeing today are unmatched. Overnight, organizations were forced to pivot in a short period and with no clear timelines in sight.
With these recent experiences, what have organizations learned and what have organizations done to successfully make it through the pandemic?
Leading With the Heart
It has been interesting to watch organizations weave their way through this pandemic, with many taking a renewed focus on the people aspect. There is a greater understanding of the importance of leading with compassion; the lines between work and personal are blurred and employees are looking to contribute to organizations that recognize this shift.
As we have always said, change starts at the individual level, so focusing on leading change with compassion is a differentiator we are seeing between those that have been successful and those that have encountered challenges. I remember seeing the BBC interview of Professor Robert Kelly on South Korea that was interrupted by his children and how it went viral in 2017. Who would have expected this would be a common occurrence and accepted now?
At Harbinger, we have always had a people-first approach and enable our people to choose how, when, and where to do their work. In fact, our fledglings are often the highlights of our day and regularly join our Zoom calls. Family is something we all value and having this embedded as part of our culture from the start provided us with the foundation to pull through this pandemic.
Embedding a Change Resiliency Culture
Another component in navigating change successfully is embedding change resiliency into a company’s culture. Change resiliency is the ability to adapt and persevere despite any circumstance. To have the ability to embed these characteristics into an organization’s culture, it must be led from the top. Leaders need to create a space where collaboration is fostered, taking risks is encouraged, and making mistakes is acceptable.
It is also important to note that change resiliency is a critical element to adjust to ongoing change as it allows companies to bounce back during times of crisis. This is often the discriminator between those that have failed with those that have advanced and thrived during the pandemic.
It is hard to believe that two years have passed since this all started. Despite feelings of uncertainty across almost all organizations at the onset, organizations that took on the challenge by accelerating their transformation activities which included enhancing digital capabilities and new ways of working, came out on top.
A fitting example of a company that demonstrated change resiliency is Expedia, an online travel company. The travel industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with Expedia experiencing an 82% decline in revenues in Q2. Despite this hardship, the organization pulled through by adapting their online experience with flexible cancellations, simplifying how they do business, and shifting their marketing efforts to highlight destinations that enabled people to be outside, promoted cleanliness, and allowed accommodations for extended periods for working holidays.
The resiliency seen by Expedia was not easily achievable, but a significant contributor to their success is their leadership that remained positive and continued to explore new opportunities for their business to thrive despite what they were up against.
Acknowledge That Change Doesn’t End
In the aforementioned article about Expedia, their Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Peter Kern, also recognized that the change did not end and took the pandemic as an opportunity to execute on activities that would have been challenging in the past.
“In a weird way, COVID is a blessing if you want to be a change agent. Obviously, it’s terrible for humanity but in terms of really focusing your company, it gives you an opportunity to focus on what really matters, and that’s a hard thing to do when it’s just business as usual.” – Peter Kern
But once an organization recognizes that change doesn’t end, what’s next?
Rethinking the End-Date of a Change Initiative
We know that the pandemic has impacted all industries and yet many organizations continue to struggle with how to grapple significant business transformations or change initiatives. A big part of this is how organizations manage change initiatives by giving them an end-date.
While determining an end-date is a natural part of project management, it is important to keep in mind that almost all change initiatives not only take longer than expected, but require additional efforts like reinforcement, training, and ongoing communications to be successful. With this in mind, all change initiatives should plan for and be flexible with end-dates.
In this video, watch as Greg Roth, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Harbinger, discusses what the average length of a change initiative is and how to realize the benefits of your change initiative.
My recommendation for clients is to always incorporate additional time for change management activities during each milestone and as part of all project lifecycles. Culture work takes time and embedding traits like a people-first approach and change resiliency is not an easy task. There are several components involved that go far beyond the change itself including revisiting company values, hiring practices, recruitment activities, change management training and leadership, training, reinforcement support, and communications practices. Collectively these actions will support organizations in achieving sustainable change and realizing true benefits.
Director of Marketing & Communications