Successful and sustained change in a virtual world is challenging: traditional practices no longer apply

Managing change pre-COVID-19 was hard but a new complexity means we need to review how we will manage change in the future.

Unprecedented times have resulted in a transformation to workplaces. As we see employees wrestling with personal challenges, leaders are faced with managing the wellbeing, performance and productivity of their people, keeping their workforce connected and engaged while keeping the business running and building for the future.

Traditional practices that rely on in-person engagement no longer apply. So how can we manage change effectively and continue to engage our people in this new reality.

There are four key aspects to delivering successful change in a new hybrid virtual and face to face world.

Aligned leadership and connection

Change is only as successful as its leadership. Senior leaders’ ability to build trust and drive the change, be aligned around program objectives, and set a clear vision for teams is still of critical importance.

During times of disruption or uncertainly, reinforcement of the program aims and commitment to continuing to deliver program benefits is key to both leaders and their people staying the course. However leaders need to acknowledge the context, including potentially adjusted priorities – have compassion through continuity – and ensure they are more available for people than ever.

Leaders will also need to work harder to stay connected and aligned with each other, the key to building trust, as they navigate in a more virtual world.

Change is still a human experience

To ensuring change is meaningful for people, messaging and engagement needs to be based on individual needs and impacts.  People need to understand what the change means for them and be given the opportunity to imagine the new world; to be able to ask questions or raise concerns. Although face to face interaction is still the most effective method to communicate, the new reality means in-person conversations to share information and for leaders to champion the change are not always possible. An increasing reliance on technology to connect and collaborate, when managed well, can still drive strong engagement and effective change management. As the volume of digital communications has significantly increased it is critical our strategies not only cut through the noise and technology overload, but continue to support people’s personal understanding of the change.

Leaders must be empathetic and use language that resonates and aligns to the culture of the organisation. Crowdsourcing platforms, with facility for quick and easy feedback, are a great place for outreach and establishing conversations that build trust.

People still want to feel they are a part of creating the future

People always perform best in a world where they have been part of the design. As such collaboration remains an important element of a virtual change program. Collaboration sessions can most certainly continue to be effective when physically distant, however we need to work on ways to retain engagement. Remote sessions with concise, structured and targeted agendas work best and are more effective in smaller groups. There are a range of tools that enable remote collaboration methods such as brainstorming, virtual break out rooms and white boarding, enabling facilitators and workshop participants alike to contribute their ideas and feedback around process design or other topics.

We have found in virtual workshops, people participate more with strong moderator facilitation with teams broken up into small to medium sized breakout sessions and a co-facilitator to manage the logistics of the breakout sessions and ongoing chat messages to enable prompt responses. Building in adequate preparation time and an interactive presentation will support the success of the workshop/ meeting.

Measuring Change and Business Readiness

In a virtual environment the challenge is understanding the sentiment of teams to be, “Ready, Willing and Able” for change. Regular pulse checks at key program junctures (e.g. after initial awareness communications; ongoing throughout the workshops; after completion of training) become just as important or perhaps even more so we can quickly alter our strategy. Allow time to gauge individual sentiment, as well as more frequent dedicated readiness assessments using online survey tools.

Engaging employees to drive successful and sustained change in a virtual world is indeed challenging. However, continuing to invest and evolve the way we deliver change will enable organisations and leaders to engage with their people and continue to achieve their strategic initiatives, strengthen their cultures, and deliver business outcomes to thrive and grow.

Additional research and assistance from Bonnie Fisher, Associate Director and Dan Hershon, Associate Director.

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