Getting proactive in post covid-19 reality

Necessity is the mother of invention – and there’s no shortage of necessity right now. Whether positively or negatively affected by the current covid-19 pandemic does not matter – companies are abandoning long-term strategies and shifting focus to solving the immediate situation.

To be successful, companies should establish a pandemic PMO to manage the change agenda, setup an information control room to take command of information flows and engage change agents to maintain transformation momentum.

Uncertainty is the new normal

The management team is busy scrambling together new strategies to address the immediate situation only for them to be revisited days later as the situation continues to escalate. Uncertainties continue to plague corporate agendas as experts are unable to provide any reliable estimates on when the situation will stabilize.

In the meantime, middle management finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place – trying to uphold what resembles some kind of operations with one hand and adapting to the new reality with the other. Engaging the team is challenging as staff is either working from home, sick, worn out or on leave of absence for most of the week. Customers are either not coming through the door or orders are piling up to the point where customer promises can’t be fulfilled. New information is constantly fed internally, and external communications can’t keep up – with customer service working overtime as a result.

Bringing order to chaos

As with all change management – it’s important to get ahead of the situation and become proactive. We see three aspects to implement in order to take control of the situation and prepare for whatever may come.

1. Implement a pandemic PMO

The first action should be to establish a pandemic PMO to address all initiatives related to the immediate change agenda. Improved governance will see the management team getting more insight and control. Middle management will get some long-needed structure and support processes to help prioritize efforts. In ensuring the success of the pandemic PMO, three key aspects need to be considered.

First, the PMO needs to have the legitimacy and authority to override any previous undertakings in the organization. The PMO should report directly to the management team and preferably be led by one of its members. It will provide a direct link between the management team and the executing teams to streamline information flows.

Second, all parts of the organization are affected by the crisis and they are all interconnected. Engaging cross-functional teams in the PMO is a prerequisite to ensure progress fast enough to address market challenges.

Third, opposite to a typical PMO – now is not the time for complex Gantt charts and toll gates. Stand-ups, agile boards and other cherry-picked agile methods should be the mode of operations – especially important when managing geographically dispersed teams. Think of it as being in an entrepreneurial phase where the motto is ‘just do it’ rather than ‘do it right’ – time is not on your side.

2. Setup an information control room

The uncertainties brought by the covid-19 pandemic affect how we as people behave. Most noticeably, we strive toward reducing uncertainties by searching for answers among available information. Therefore, it’s imperative to provide these answers to control expectations and perceptions of company stakeholders. Internal and external communications have typically little in common, but now find a common denominator in the covid-19 situation. Therefore, it’s time to get internal and external communication teams in the same room.

An information control room, possibly part of the pandemic PMO, gathers internal and external coms teams to ensure that employees, customers and other stakeholders are updated on the latest developments and the company’s perspective on the situation. This idea is to take control of the interpretation of information and shorten communication lines – for instance, to ensure customer service is always on top of the latest information. However, it’s not all about broadcasting a message – it’s about dialogue. Customers and employees feel uneasy with the uncertainties of the situation and want to feel that their concerns are taken seriously. Empathise with their situation. Increasing availability with internal and external help lines and self-service information will help improve their experience. Remember, creating positive experiences in customer service will significantly improve customer loyalty.

3. Engage change agents

Change does not come by itself, although urgency does help. Change ambassadors – or change agents – are key to gaining momentum in change efforts. A change agent may not necessarily be a subject matter expert with in-depth knowledge of the problem to be solved, but rather possesses the mindset and skills to drive the change process forward. A problem-solver with social capital who can bring order to chaos, navigate the internal political landscape to get peers on board the transformation journey. Change agents are found in every organization, but they don’t always hold formal leadership roles. Identifying and appointing change agents to head execution teams require the integrity to look beyond formal positions and make appointments based on qualifications rather than seniority. Another way around the issue is of course to engage external consultants – who will also bring a valuable outside perspective.

Over time, we will realize that the pandemic has permanently changed our habits, attitudes and entire society for better or for worse. But for now, focus should be on addressing immediate issues and rigging an organization set for change.

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