How the pandemic changed change management

As the panel discussed in a recent SmartCompany webinar, change is always a constant in business. The ongoing pandemic, though, has created an imperative for a much more rapid adoption of change, both reactive and proactive. 

For large organisations, change management teams and external consultants are the growing norm, but SMEs tend not to have the luxury. With our webinar panel of Valantis Vais (head of enterprise product, MYOB), Chris Low (head of vibe, Canva) and Hichame Assi (CEO, Envato), we’re turning our focus to what successful change management should look like for businesses going forward. 

Change is constant and no longer a choice

You’ll hear the term ‘agile’ constantly in business circles, and its core message is adaptability to change. Change is no longer something businesses can opt out of and the message from experts is clear: don’t avoid change, even if you get it wrong the first time.

“Change is constant and the opportunities that come with that change are huge,” says Vais. “If we reflect on some of those organisations that moved early, as we come out of lockdown they’re ready to go again. This is where change management plays the role. Does the change leave a scar or not?”

It’s an idea supported by Angela Celestin’s recent piece in the Washington Business Journal; forget business as you knew it and roll with the punches. “Throw away the concept of ‘normal’ and instead embrace change as the constant on which we can rely,” Celestin says. “Let us focus on building and flexing our change muscles so we are ready for the unpredictable and unprecedented.”

Want to learn the foundational skills of change management from the experts? Watch the webinar in full here.

Employee wellbeing is more important than ever

How a business cares for its employees can go a long way to ensuring the success or failure of a change management strategy. At Canva, Chris Low has overseen a focus on employee wellbeing across the pandemic-induced upheaval. 

“We were asking ourselves ‘Why? Why do things have to change?’” Low says. “And guided by our values — be a good human and be a force for good — the wellbeing and safety of the team and our broader community was the answer to why.” 

One of Canva’s initiatives has been an increase in employee benefits — a tangible stipend with no strings attached. It’s not something that will fit all organisations, but the essence of the idea is this: support your employees’ wellbeing through change, and they will support you. 

Employee expectations have evolved

The working model has shifted rapidly, and it’s unlikely we’re going to go back to how things used to be. The hybrid model — working between home and office regularly — is part of an expectation from employees that flexibility (some old fashioned give-and-take) is now a non-negotiable part of working. Embracing this is key.

“Despite the Covid-19 experience, and likely long-term increases in the number of team members working remotely, the workplace of tomorrow will require more teamwork than ever before. Leaders need to embrace — and facilitate — this reality,” says Grant Freeland in Forbes. For Freeland, successful change management comes from enabling the voices of employees, even across uncharted working models, and facilitating cooperation.

It’s a point Hichame Assi makes clear, too: employees can be a powerful asset in enacting change, so taking their expectations into account is paramount. 

“We’re talking a lot about change being top-down, but there’s also a lot of change that is bottom-up,” Assi says. “If you foster the right environment there’s a lot of grassroots change. Agility to respond to some of these grassroots changes… I think it goes both ways.”

Whatever happens, communication is key

There’s a point our panellists all agree on: when it comes to managing change, employees want to know what’s happening. “There’s proactive communication and there’s reactive,” says Assi. 

“Sometimes you do get it wrong and people are a little surprised at the change and want a little more information, so it’s a good idea to be very transparent and discuss why we made that change. We might not have been as clear as we wanted but we’re here to answer all the questions. That’s quite key.”

Keep in mind that while the specifics of change management may have altered through the pandemic — things like employee wellbeing and expectations of working style — change has always been a core function of business and will always need to be managed. Being honest and open with employees through the process is an evergreen tip that businesses should keep in mind when confronted with change, big or small. 

“We want to be taking people on a journey rather than dragging them there,” says Low.

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MYOB

MYOB is a leading business platform with a core purpose of helping more businesses in Australia and New Zealand start, survive and succeed. At the heart of MYOB is a customer base of 1.2 million businesses and a network of more than 40,000 accountants, bookkeepers and consultants, for whom MYOB delivers end-to-end business and accounting solutions. MYOB operates across four key segments: Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), Enterprise, Financial Services and Practice.

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