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COVID-19 & the World of Work: Agility, Recovery, & Change Management

Not too far in the distant past, the economy was going gangbusters. Companies were thriving, the stock market was at the highest of highs, and unemployment at an all-time low. In 2020, this all changed. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked our world.

Consumers were asked (some would say mandated) to self-isolate at home to combat this new enemy. Consumerism focused on needs (food and shelter) versus wants (high-end luxury items).

Time to Pivot

Many of us have been touched in some way or another by the pandemic impacts. Not only have consumers shifted how they buy and behave, so have businesses and manufacturers. Brick and mortar retail experienced a significant decrease in operations. Ecommerce has exploded. How many Amazon, FedEx, UPS, etc. delivery trucks do we see in our neighborhoods every day? Analysts predict it’s not over for retail, but physical retail will need to evolve post-coronavirus.

Restaurants were also forced to change their approach to serving customers. No longer are the days of going to a restaurant, sitting down and enjoying a meal with family and friends. Now, restaurants are engaging in unprecedented partnerships with Uber Eats, Grub Hub, Door Dash, to name only a few. Restaurants are also engaging in direct partnerships. For example, two local Columbus businesses teamed up to deliver pizza and beer to your doorstep. Another craft beer store is taking on-line orders and delivering growlers of beer to your front door.

Small retailers are offering virtual fashion shows, accepting on-line orders followed by prompt home delivery, churches and religious houses of worship are mastering new ways of social connectivity through their faith gatherings. Online doctors have shifted to telemedicine, changing the way we visit our physicians for routine or minor illnesses.

While many goods and services remained the same in their approach to business, many manufacturing organizations significantly shifted production from historical core products to new lines of business for COVID-19 support. For example:

Hand sanitizer: Anheuser-Busch, Bulgari, Coty, Estee Lauder Companies, L’Oreal

Face shields: Apple, Nike, Rothy’s

Surgical, non-surgical face masks and hospital gowns: Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Carhartt, Chanel, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Ikea, Nieman Marcus, Ralph Lauren

Ventilators: Dyson

General Motors has also stepped up to shift historical (and declining) vehicle production to COVID-19 related products. In late March, General Motors in Kokomo, Indiana, and Ventec Life Systems announced a partnership to mass-produce critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Putting GM employees to work building ventilators is not just securing employment, but actually saving them.

Likewise, General Motors in Warren, Michigan, shifted to producing masks in less than seven days in response to COVID-19. From sourcing materials from existing suppliers to retooled technology for production (fold, weld, cut, and assembly), to sterilization and bagging for delivery. GM again formed a partnership with Michigan Manufacturers Association, an organization of 1,700 companies across all industries to accelerate making masks, promoting an even wider distribution channel.

Transitioning to the new normal

COVID-19 propelled unprecedented change for many organizations, services, and most significantly, people. Moving from the state of transition to the new normal will prompt individuals to change their behaviors again. Technology will be a significant contributor to all segments, including manufacturing, health, services, and education. Of course, change in technology translates to change for processes, policies, and people.

A key goal in managing dynamic and unpredictable challenges is a practical change management strategy. Investing in your change management plan now, despite all answers being available as we transition to the new normal, is paramount. Business leaders should focus on communicating with stakeholders early and often. While not all answers are available, adapting a values-based decision approach, and communicating with transparency will help establish and regain employee trust.

Leaders must recognize it is not business as usual. Now, more than ever, leaders must embrace change management. As companies devise new ways of working, pivot strategies, and explore new business lines, expect a learning curve to support new technology and remote work. Robust communications, awareness, and education campaigns for all employees articulating the new normal is critical.

The change management plan should begin with understanding your current state, define the future normal, and plan the rollout of the future state. Leaders should understand the impact of their role, the team's impact, and the business impact. Retain critical fundamentals of what has worked in the past while exploring options to overcome resistance during historical change initiatives.

When planning the rollout of the new normal, incorporate these three key elements:

  • Identify the governance structure and team/task force to implement the return to business plan.
  • Create your tactical return to business plan (things to include and/or consider).
  • Integrate key change management activities to include in your return to business plan.

Resilience is vital to allow people the ability to survive and thrive through unpredictable and changing environments. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created a world of uncertainty, the new world will undoubtedly bring with it lots of new opportunities. Those who succeed will be prepared to seize and act swiftly to harness new energy to lead their business through the Coronavirus crisis.

Lisa Evans is a Principal Consultant in Avaap’s Organizational Change Management (OCM) practice. Avaap’s powered-by-Prosci change management methodology provides organizations with a deliberate approach that moves individuals through change for lasting results.