Business leading in a world of COVID – preparing your business to deal with change

Leadership today is about one thing change. Leading change, embracing change, delivering change.

Business leading in a world of COVID – preparing your business to deal with change

Leadership today is about one thing ‘ change. Leading change, embracing change, delivering change.

The ability to lead change has become the key leadership skill. For if we are not leading change, we are not leading anything: we are just managing the status quo. Pre-pandemic, managing the status quo was akin to going backwards. Not anymore. Managing the status quo is no longer an option. It no longer exists.

The world’s reaction to this virus has upended the status quo completely, turning office towers into ghost towns, accelerating the transformation of the High Street and sending a swathe of industries and businesses into a frenzy of financial survival. A few industries, notably technology and healthcare, have boomed. 

Our customers have been affected, our supply chains have been affected, our finances have been affected. But opportunities exist amidst all this mayhem, and we SME owners and entrepreneurs are ideally placed to seek them out and take advantage of them.

But that depends on our ability to lead change and the ability of our people to embrace change.

2020 has taught us some vital and valuable lessons.

Working from home – works. Millions of us will not go back to the way we were. The implications of this are wide-reaching ‘ on the need for office-space, on travel budgets, on the way we conduct meetings, …

Every business is a digital business. Paying lip service to ‘digital’ is no longer an option. Paper signatures are a thing of the past. Communications, marketing and service delivery are all now digital. We leaders need to ask ourselves the question, What does ‘digital’ mean for my business? And then how we implement it ‘ quickly. 

Every business is a people business. Covid-19, our governments’ reactions to Covid-19 and the media’s constant catastrophising on the subject have sent anxiety levels through the roof. Your people’s mental health and well-being have been seriously affected. They are worried about their health, the health of their parents, their children’s future and their own financial security. As leaders, it is vital that we provide them with the skills and tools they need to cope and thrive in this uncertain world.  As we will discuss below, the gift they need is the ability to embrace change. 

2020 has reminded us that businesses are more than balance sheets and P&L accounts. Successful leaders care – because successful businesses are people businesses. 

Sustainability is everything. A buzzword that is now the cornerstone of every business. Genuine sustainability comes in four flavours:

Financial sustainability: Many of the businesses that were thrust into this crisis without a financial buffer built from either robust margins or abundant capital ‘ have either disappeared or may not survive the winter. 

Social sustainability: Businesses that looked after their people during this financial crisis and gave back to the society in which they operate ‘ will be remembered. 

Environmental sustainability: Ironically, hundreds of thousands of deaths were postponed during the second quarter of this year as the 350,000+ people who usually die across the world every month from air pollution ‘ didn’t. The climate crisis has taken a back seat during 2020 and it will re-emerge with a vengeance. Your environmental credentials will be even more important than they were before. 

Strategic sustainability: Companies without complete clarity of why they exist, who they exit to serve, what makes them different and what they need to do to deliver ‘ will find it nigh impossible to compete.

The secret to your future success is the ability of your people to embrace change.

If your people aren’t ready, willing and able to embrace change ‘ your business will not succeed.

Change leadership is all about your people, for the simple reason that all change is personal. Even the grandest of large organisational changes is actually the culmination of a myriad of individual, personal changes. And no-one changes simply because they are told to; they only change if they want to. So, as leaders, it is our job to help them to want to change. 

It is our job to help our people appreciate that:

All change is emotional. The powerful emotions we feel when confronted by major change are not only OK, they are normal. Just realising this can be a giant step in the right direction. In the ‘Embracing Change’ workshops I run for employees, the reaction of one lady sticks in my mind. She was wiping away tears throughout much of the first session and came up to me in the break to thank me. Her father had died recently, and she had no idea that the rollercoaster of negative emotions she was feeling were normal. Her relief was palpable.

We all erect natural barriers to change, which we can also overcome. We can learn to detach from our negative thoughts, observe our emotions, reframe the way we look at life’s challenges, confront our fears, voice our doubts, find good tribes ‘ and change. 

They can be their own change catalyst. Not only is it ultimately up to them to change, but the power to change lies within them. The person best placed to enable them to change ‘ is themselves. Life is so much more rewarding when we take responsibility and make the changes we know we need to make.

Your people can learn to harness change and make it work for them ‘ for their own benefit and for the future success of the business.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your people is the power to change.

Campbell Macpherson is an international business adviser and the author of The Power to Change: How to Harness Change to Make it Work for You, published by Kogan Page.

Campbell Macpherson
Campbell Macpherson

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