It now seems a lifetime ago, but it’s less than 5 months since Larraine Solomon and I held our first World Cafe Event with the Change Management Institute. On a cold January evening, the ‘paradoxes of change’ were discussed and debated in an insightful and high-energy conversation. We considered why people choose to change in their personal lives but often resist change in a work environment. Easy to say, but harder to do, we concluded that no matter how good the project plan is, it’s good leadership, culture and communication that are the essential ingredients for success.

Fast forward 5 months and the world has changed beyond recognition. And looking ahead, there’s no doubt that the pandemic will unleash more change that leaders need to be prepared for. Over the last few weeks we have been talking with a range of business leaders and professionals around the globe from a range of industries to hear views and explore the new paradoxes. We will be sharing some of their questions and views in a series of blogs on this topic. Thank you to everyone who has contributed and have been generous with their time. Thanks especially to Larraine for taking the lead on writing this article.

Top of mind for many of the people we spoke to has been the concept of change itself. Conventional wisdom and experience suggests that ‘change takes time’. Processes and systems are typically slow to embed within organisations, there’s a resistance to new technology, behaviour change is difficult, and it often takes months or even years for people to go through the change curve….“that’s not the way we do things around here” is a familiar mantra.

But is that still true? In just 2 short months, most people’s working lives have changed beyond recognition. Leadership changeGone are the days of mass transport and office meetings, replaced by home working and zoom calls. We’ve swapped conferences for conversations, newspapers for social media and Starbucks coffee for home-made smoothies. The tone of employee communications has also changed from ‘corporate speak’ to a more human voice. And no matter if you are a grandparent or a child, technology has come of age and nobody is afraid to use it anymore.

Whether change still takes a long time to effect is an interesting paradox after what seems to us to be the greatest social experiment of our time.

Here are a few things that business leaders have recently said to us on this topic:

  • Change can be done quickly and effectively. This has shown that wide-scale change can be delivered at pace on a global scale in ways that were unimaginable a few months ago. Caroline Ward, Head of Culture and Internal Communication. Slater and Gordon
  • We have found out that change can happen quickly if we incentivise people to move along the change curve. They will adapt to the new normal if they experience positive outcomes. Francis McLoughlin, Senior Communications Partner at CVS Health
  • It’s going to be hard to go back or forward because both will involve further change, Fiona French, Executive Director, HR at LifeArc
  • We will have learned how to manage many concurrent changes better, Nancy Florence, IT business partner at Celgene Canada
  • When the lockdown begins to end, how we ‘warm people up’ to restart their work will be important. Care needs to be taken that furloughed employees don’t feel under-valued or less connected compared to others. People also need to accept that many things will have changed. Sarah Hilyer, Internal and Change Communication Specialist
  • Expectations for employees returning will need to be handled with care. Many people will be fearful of returning quickly, especially if they are in close contact with vulnerable individuals Roxanne Tashjian, Global Operations Executive at Monster Worldwide

From the C-suite to the office manager, the next few months will continue to be a defining period for many leaders to build on the many positive aspects of change and accelerate the growth of their organisations. Fundamentally, we still believe that good leadership, culture and communication will be the most important elements to business growth and success. However what these elements look like may be different.

We are fascinated to see what happens next. Has this pandemic defied conventional wisdom about the speed of change? Will technology continue to be a useful tool, or a dangerous master? If a vaccine for the virus was found tomorrow, would ‘old’ behaviours resume or will the welcome aspects of our ‘new norm’ stick?

Let us know what you think.

Complete credit to Larraine Solomon who wrote this article based on discussions we had with our various contacts across the world.