Business leaders: 5 steps to improve change management during uncertainty

Managing change in companies is focused on people, processes and responsiveness, but how can companies improve change management when uncertainty overshadows the day-to-day?

Man facing uncertainty

Image: Overearth/Shutterstock

As a leadership and strategic capability, change management helps companies identify, assess and respond to changes as they are anticipated. This can become much more difficult as sudden and unforeseen changes occur, and especially when the changes are unique and complex, such as COVID-19. Improving change management during uncertainty all starts at the end—by having a business continuity plan and hiring a change management expert.

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The keys to making improvements are recognizing what’s changed, determining the impact on your people, addressing the changes, communicating change promptly and keeping tabs on the triggers.

1. Recognize what’s changed, and isolate the root cause

Having mechanisms in place to identify when things change is beneficial but not always practical. Although COVID-19 was an unprecedented event that caught most companies off-guard, it wasn’t new. Pandemics have occurred in the past. The key for companies that were prepared was having a business continuity plan that addressed key events such as pandemics, natural disasters, malicious acts, etc. Within those plans, they likely had set out steps to address the changes that would impact projects and operations. For companies that were caught off-guard—there were many—putting together business continuity plans should be a top priority, even during uncertain times. 

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2. Determine the impact on your people

A large part of business continuity is assessing impacts and devising plans to address them and keep business going with minimal disruption. When it comes to evaluating the effect on your people during times of uncertainty, the best resources for discovery are your people. This means appointing a team representative for each group to gather valuable insight from each team member about how events will impact their roles. That information can then be rolled up to identify the impact on function groups and the company as a whole. 

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3. Effectively and efficiently address the changes

When it comes to addressing change during uncertain times, the solution may differ drastically from a normal operating environment. What may seem like a solution normally might not be sufficient or effective during chaotic times. Different decisions may be warranted, and typically, time is of the essence. Making better and faster decisions becomes the theme when a crisis hits. But this is also when faster decisions can become costly. All decisions need to be vetted against the root cause of the issue and the impact of making changes or not making changes immediately. Often not acting can become far more costly. 

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4. Clearly communicate change in a timely manner

Throughout the process of making decisions about change, key stakeholders must be kept in the loop. Often, companies forget to keep people informed, resulting in missed opportunities and mistakes. Leaving people out or not communicating too late leads to bigger issues that can complicate an already complex situation. The days of leaders keeping people in the dark under the guise of protecting them are gone. Companies and leaders need to recognize that if they believe they hired the right people, then they should also trust their people can play a vital role in helping them make the best decisions—especially during times of uncertainty. 

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5. Keep tabs on the root causes or triggers

Change management isn’t a one-time event. Once a crisis has been managed, it’s necessary to monitor and measure the changes that have been implemented. This ensures that the changes are making the intended impact. Without close monitoring of changes, their impact and the original root cause or triggers, it’s not possible to truly determine if change management practices are effective or if circumstances have again changed. 

When times change, change management has to be present, and when uncertainty creeps in, this is even more warranted. By quickly identifying, addressing, and communicating what’s changed and the impact on your people and processes and monitoring and adjusting actions, your company can become better prepared for the future. This is where establishing business continuity plans can play a big role.  

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