COVID and the 8 accelerators of change

The new normal presents a leadership challenge for many businesses. How do you lead an organisation in crisis?

In this new normal digital transformation has been accelerated, and many organisations are undergoing rapid change. It was nicely summed up on social media:

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The first priority for many small businesses has been to simply survive through lockdown. SME business owners have scrambled to take their products and services online with companies like SOSBusiness, Shopify, Mobi2Go and Regulr assisting with that transition. Some cashflow is better than no cashflow, but the next priority will be to move from ‘survive’ to thrive and deal with the many unknowns ahead. For those SMEs that are newly online now – great! Next, you’ll need to continually improve your business systems and processes to scale up or develop out your new revenue stream, and crank up your marketing and comms initiatives to reach existing and new customers. What will you do once the level restrictions are lifted? There’s no going back, and businesses will need to embed this change in for agility to deal with future challenges.

Change is essential, now more than ever, but it is not easy. John Kotter’s framework for leading change is worth revisiting in these times. These 8 accelerators of change are driven firstly by a sense of urgency which of course has been the response to the pandemic, including business lockdown for many.

8 Accelerators of Change:

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For larger and more complex organisations, building a guiding coalition to form a cross-functional team is important. This essentially creates the ‘nerve centre’ of the 8-step change process, and will need to include wide representation in order to receive information about the organisation at all levels that can be synthesised into new ways of working. There also needs to be complete commitment to following through on the change initiatives.

A strategic vision motivates people to take action, and aligns people on their actions. From there, get people onboard by enlisting your ‘volunteer army’ of energetic enthusiasts who have ownership to step up and act. Give people a reason and motivation to join the change movement, communicate, and be authentic about why this change is important. Remove barriers such as inefficient processes, and generate some short term wins (like quickly getting online). Small wins help you track progress, and energise the change process. Sustain the acceleration to press harder after your first successes, and be relentless with initiating change after change until your vision is a success.

The above accelerators of change are about developing new muscles, behaviours, and ways of working. To fully institute change you need to make it stick, and new practices must be anchored to old ways. The 4 guiding principles for effective change are:

  • Leadership + management – with vision, action, innovation and celebration
  • Head + heart – have clear meaning and purpose
  • Select few + diverse many – empower ALL people to be changemakers, not just to be carrying out somebody else’s directives
  • “Have to” + “Want to” – those who feel included in a meaningful opportunity will create change and provide energy

The new normal means digital transformation is inevitable for all companies in some way. Business leaders and SME owners have a responsibility to shift their teams to a positive, forward-looking thrive response. Keep in mind these 8 accelerators of the change process, and sustain your acceleration towards new opportunities.