Steering through the storm: Change Management in times of crisis

Written by Editor




By Tom Marsicano, CEO of ‘and Change’, 


There’s always going to be a storm. It’s just the size and severity of it that will fluctuate. We’ve experienced multiple global crises over the past few years, as businesses, organisations, and individuals are trying to determine the best ways to navigate them.

 As we start to see the other side of the global pandemic, a new political crisis – the Russia-Ukraine conflict – will have worldwide economic implications for us all, especially in Africa. The financial impact on the countries involved is apparent. In April, Ukraine’s economy had shrunk by 16%; and as trade issues arose across Europe, Asia and the United States, we could see a recession at the same scale of the COVID-19 crisis.

 Of course, the conflict is already directly impacting African economies, as experts warn that the knock-on effects could increase food security issues and poverty across the continent. In Southern Africa, we’re likely to experience a sudden increase in commodity prices and a shortage of investment capital, which is putting many organisations and businesses on edge. Instinctively, business leaders will think that the easiest way to handle this is to consider shrinking talent pools or clamping down on developing their capabilities to cut costs. But as we’ve seen over the past two years, organisations doubled down, developing capabilities that thrived during the pandemic.

 A recent study showed that it was not simply smaller resource pools for small and medium enterprises but rather diminished “capabilities, faulty routines and processes” that led to an organisational shutdown. Many corporate leaders freeze when faced with a crisis, often pausing development and change to wait out the storm. We saw it at the beginning of the pandemic: when the world is less predictable, the last thing we want to do is implement change. But fast-forward two years. Businesses around the globe realise that implementing new processes (digital and otherwise) is going to be vital to remaining competitive. From hybrid working environments to building new customer experience, the capability to implement change is becoming even more valuable.

Organisations with this change capability are also the most well-equipped to handle a crisis – or at the very least, the effects of a crisis. They also typically can quickly implement strong, sustainable new systems. But let’s also understand that people are responsible for these capabilities, so they need to be at the centre of your crisis plans. For leaders facing an unavoidable challenge or have to implement a sudden change:

 It’s important to pause and consider – without freezing up entirely. Remember your organisation’s purpose and strategy, and stick to growth plans. Communication to reinforce this for the rest of your team is vital. Long periods of silence will increase uncertainty and stress, so it’s all right to be honest about the unknown even if you’re uncertain.

Reconsider your capabilities. Where can we improve? How can we be more agile? Encourage teams to be more autonomous, provide greater flexibility – and remember that being agile requires a mindset shift that promotes adaptability and allows for occasional failure.

Use the tools you already have. Change management tactics can be applied to long-term, planned changes and also sudden crises. The change managers in your organisation have already developed broad skill sets that can assist with communication, help prepare their peers in the face of urgent change, and set the strategies that will help mitigate the impacts of a crisis.

Take care of employee needs to ensure business continuity. Yes, there will likely be technical needs in the face of change. People will need to learn new systems to work. But even more importantly, acknowledge emotional needs as well. Maintain communication and realise that people are more resistant to change if their emotional needs are not met.

Regardless of the current global political and economic climate, change is inevitable. But we’ve seen that the world, and all of us, are more adaptable than we think. We proved this during the pandemic, with many discovering we had capabilities we didn’t know we had. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about crises, they have the potential to bring out the best in us all.

Changing for the better? Let the business world know about it:

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