Embedding positive changes in your company

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If there are any positive changes arising from the pandemic, then companies should identify them and embed them into their business practices before things return to something like normal.

The whole business world has had to scramble to stay afloat as COVID-19 circles the globe, forcing sudden and drastic changes in the way we interact and work together and apart. The consequences have been catastrophic for many. It sounds almost ghoulish to ask if anything positive has come from these past few months that is worth preserving. But we do ask it, because if there are gems amongst the rubble, it would be good to salvage them for the benefit of us all.

There are reports in various media about how companies have learnt to do some things differently and better. Turning these lessons into lasting positive change is a challenge we should accept, even as we struggle with the crisis.

By way of example, many people have found that working from home suits them, providing some flexibility is allowed. It cuts out frustrating rush hour commutes, reduces transport costs and can allow for greater focus on the work at hand, without the many distractions that occur in offices and open spaces. People have learnt to have “zoom chats” that mirror interactions around the water cooler.

Online meetings, when well-managed, can also deliver some unexpected benefits. It is harder for the loudest personalities to dominate conversations, if everyone is required to mute their microphones until invited to speak, and it is easier to get input from those who are often hesitant to speak. Many have described an increased level of politeness and respect in online meetings and conversations. It is harder to thump the table and shout people down when the chairperson owns the mute button.

Ironically, the need to work apart has sometimes fostered cross silo communication in companies and a lot has been said about getting to know ones colleagues better through seeing them in their home environment, often with family members, pictures, books or pets in the background. It is just possible that formal business attire will become increasingly obsolete as people realise that you can make good decisions in casual clothes.

Many businesses have had to learn very quickly how to digitise aspects of their workflow, and how to conduct their marketing, customer relations and sales online and remotely.

In summary, changes have occurred which could in the long-term result in substantial savings, in more effective work processes, and in positive adjustments to company culture. Individual companies will know best what they are doing differently that they would like to preserve.

It is necessary to act quickly to make these changes. When systems are disrupted, they try to return to the situation as it was before the change occurred. The logic is that the “old way” of doing things is embedded in policies and processes, messaging from the leadership, performance management and incentive systems, company culture, branding, and market relationships. These together create a feedback loop that discourages change and maintains continuity in “how things are done”. As companies resume after the lockdown, all these “conservative” forces will come into play, as they should – their effect is to conserve those things that have worked well in the past. Sometimes though, this conservatism can prevent companies and leaders from adapting to new circumstances or technologies.

The COVID-19 crisis has, as described above, dislodged many habits and practices, and forced many changes on how business is conducted.

If any of these are worth keeping, then you need to make the changes and hard code them into your business so that they are deeply embedded in the company’s ecosystem. To do this requires a concerted effort to identify, support and give effect from the top to these changes: they should be captured in policy documents, human resource manuals, performance contracts and messaging that tell your staff “this is how we do things now”. If this is not done quite intentionally, those good new ways of doing things will simply become war stories – “remember how well meetings flowed when we all called in from home” – while all the old ways of doing things reassert themselves as the crisis recedes.

In this way, the company will put in place a new feedback loop, moving on from change process to reinforcing the new normal.

Thornhill is a company that specialises in feedback. Let us know if we can help you arrange the multi-rater feedback systems in your company to sustain the changes you want to see.

Cedric de Beer and Jonathan Cook

For more information on Thornhill’s various products and services for all levels within your organisation, please contact us on admin@thornhill.co.za

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