How you plan for change plays a big part in the effectiveness of your strategy and the outcome across the entire organisation. However, it’s not always easy to plan for change. Sometimes, change is spontaneous.

This is a very dominant issue right now, as many organisations grapple with the fallout of COVID-19. Disruption, you might say, has never been more prevalent. So, what is the course of action in these surprise situations?

The answer, it seems, isn’t in an action plan or strategy, but could be in the foundational culture your organisation is built on. In our last Disruption Circle event, prominent HR directors discussed the important role business culture plays in change management.

It seems that things we do in non-disrupted periods can really affect the way all change (even when spontaneous) is effectively managed. Simply encouraging employees to ‘speak up’ can help you better weather the storm of uncomfortable change.

The domino effect of non-inclusivity

As disruption is becoming more common in businesses globally, HR teams are having to learn to manage unprecedented situations. Right now, for example, we’re seeing more remote workforces, more dismissal of causal employees, and more forced redundancies due to pandemic-related economic stress.

Without time to put in a clear plan for how to deal with this, many businesses are struggling to effectively manage these disruptions from an organisational standpoint – let alone a human one.

Something prominent HR directors have shared is that, in their experience, what separates some businesses from others at times like this isn’t their action plan, but their organisational culture. The way that businesses build a work environment without the presence of disruption hugely impacts how well they manage when things suddenly start going south.

How is that possible? Let’s take a look at how a non-inclusive culture can lead to a poorly executed change management plan:

  • Employees are afraid to speak up or are not given the opportunity to so, which leads to
  • Valuable opinions and points of views being missed when discussing change strategies, which leads to
  • Development of a strategy that is not the best option, or isn’t fully actionable, which leads to
  • Disruption management itself becoming disruptive, and failing to support the business and its employees through change, which leads to
  • Employees need not being met and brand reputation being tarnished

It might seem like a stretch, but in just five points we’ve gone from a company who thinks they’re doing well, to one that struggles to avoid negative disruption outcomes.

What does ‘good culture’ look like?

Not many (if any) organisations would say that they want employees to feel unheard or uncomfortable speaking up. In fact, many businesses these days actively and proudly promote positive work cultures. But when put to the test, how many stand up to the challenge?

Clearly, businesses who fail to nurture an environment where employees feel valued and secure in speaking their mind are more likely to fail to achieve good change management. Especially when it’s in reaction to a spontaneous disruption.

So, how do you know if your business is at risk of being one of them before it’s too late? Here are some tell-tale signs of a truly inclusive work culture:

  • It’s ok to constructively challenge decisions and behaviours
  • There is a diversity of thought and representation (to overcome bias or group think) in the decision-making process
  • Organisational power dynamics are non-existent
  • There is a strong sense of belonging by all team members

A good example of this is, to return to a pertinent subject, is the health advice that has contributed to the current COVID-19 environment. The commentary around the scientific facts, the analysis of the data, and interpretation of what actions to take is creating much fear and anxiety in the community.

Many ‘experts’ and ‘self-proclaimed experts’ are providing strong opinions, in many instances contrary to the advice provided by the Chief Medical Officer, which are fuelling these concerns. If all these voices had been represented and discussed around the table to present a unified, workshopped message, everyone would have been better off.

Make a change for good, and be prepared when things look bad

When staff are happy, included and feel comfortable speaking up in the ‘good’ times, it can help you more successfully weather the difficult ones.

While organisational hierarchy may dictate who makes the final decisions, making sure those people have a wide breadth of information and opinions before doing so is vital.

It doesn’t need to be a difficult or time-consuming process. It can be as simple as encouraging employees to ask ‘why’, and fully considering their answers. As HR professionals, you have the power to:

  • Encourage feedback and question asking
  • Support employee opinions, even when they differ from the norm
  • Share these messages with decision-makers

It’s important to have the confidence and the place to speak your mind, particularly in situations when you have uncertainty. If you’re facing some tough decisions in the face of current COVID-19 disruption, these initiatives can be particularly helpful.

If you’re facing the likelihood of permanently or indefinitely laying off workers, speak to them. You’ll likely be offered more ideas than if you went straight to management. It’ll help you determine:

  • Do they have other skills that can be utilised?
  • Are there other opportunities or roles that need to be filled?
  • Are they ready and willing to take a redundancy?
  • Would they find value in professional development in work downtime?

Having their voice heard allows people to be more comfortable with the idea of change, and more comfortable that their company cares about them in the throes of change.

If you’re looking for help to manage the human impact of change through the increasing pressure of COVID-19, Choice Career Services have the resources and expertise to help.

From professional development to outplacement advice, Choice has over 20 years’ experience managing planned and spontaneous workplace disruptions. Click here to talk to Choice