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Change Management Strategies: Lessons Learned From the Pandemic

Anne-Laure Pierson

Many companies providing essential services or products were able to continue their operations during the pandemic. Workflows and work processes were adapted to comply with good public health practices. For some organizations, decontainment brought a host of complex managerial challenges to recovery. However, looking back over the past few years, we see that several lessons can be learned from organizations that have not stopped operating and who chose to implement change management strategies.

Change management strategy 1: adapting content to priorities

Do you know the management balancing act? The change management process during a pandemic required managers to be flexible and creative. Indeed, the health security of teams was the biggest concern of companies. Top management meetings, therefore, had to address this issue systematically.

Take the example of our clients in the food and bev industry. As business picked up, they began adapting their operational meeting agendas to include "COVID-19 action items”. This new day-to-day essential was designed to help drive successful change. How did they do this? By helping to ensure that the new methodology and rules are applied. We had to promote appropriate health behaviors to protect employees and customers. Moreover, the pandemic reminded us of the importance of regular follow-ups with the various stakeholders in a team.

Change management strategy 2: adapting content in line with the challenges of distancing

Awareness: leading meetings differently

The first step in leading successful change is to recognize that a change must be made. With the pandemic and the social distancing measures, meetings became difficult to manage and facilitate. Even so, management had to adapt to maintain a dialogue with the teams in the field. Although the topics discussed were different than in normal times, the organizations were able to renew themselves to keep the focus on the company's objectives.

Communicating differently in the field with new practices

Effective communication is essential to implement change. Good project management in the field was a key element to success. Some of our clients adapted their communication plans and integrated new visual management and sign language systems. Here's a real-life example of an ingenious communication strategy: to avoid long set-up times related to complex individual protections, the manager deployed standard practices around clean rooms (or paint booths) with simple communication through a glass window to make his tour effective.


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Using new technology for an effective change management plan

In times of change, digital transformation is often a very good asset, and digitizing tools usually help drive performance and productivity. During the pandemic, our clients were able to support the rapid deployment of required health behavior audits by leveraging :

  • Operational performance tracking on tablets that ensured all stakeholders had the right version at the right time;

  • Checklists adapted directly into the tool to ensure consistent content control;

  • Rapid harmonization of practices with all field teams to limit the amount of support required for implementation.

The implementation of digital agile tools and applications has always made team members and operational management more secure. They enable remote monitoring of achievements and performance with a view to continuous improvement. These tools also reassure the company's management team and the clients who provide services. Progress and achievements are accessible via shared platforms and facilitated reporting, thus confirming to all that safety and performance are under control.

But during the pandemic, these practices were even more important as telecommuting became a critical component of business continuity.

With these changes, many organizations have had to rethink how they work within the company. For many, this led to a major project to change business processes and established practices: from production lines to executives who had to conduct their strategy meetings remotely.

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Supporting change

During the pandemic, our clients in the agri-food industry and those offering essential services had to continually adapt their practices, dashboards, and behaviors. They also had to implement a change management approach to ensure the continuity of the value chain in the short, medium, and long term.

For our clients, it was essential to offer support to the team members to promote a viable application of the expected changes in behavior. Indeed, change management helps to :

  • Solicit the agility and competency of each service

  • Give meaning to the actions carried out

Companies working in so-called non-essential sectors, like manufacturers, were forced to suspend all their activities. Therefore, the change management strategies used by those manufacturers differed from those of essential service companies. The lessons learned from this episode now encourage us to :

  • Think about adaptations and integrate specific constraints into business strategy
  • Plan the support of local managers and the project team
  • Organize the implementation in the field

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Successful change management 101: leadership based on Non-Violent Communication

With social distancing has come a whole new set of dynamics that are constraining workplaces. Of course, this initiative came with risks, and most people show some resistance to change in the early stages. How could we be sure that social distancing would not lead to a distancing of exchanges and thus to a decrease in motivation and mobilization of teams?

Frontline managers were increasingly subject to operational management in "firefighter" mode, with daily updates. They had to create a reassuring business environment to promote team performance. Managers were at the center of changing decisions and issues in the field. However, a key element to an effective change management strategy was to continue to engage the team members, listen to them, consider them, and show kindness to each employee.

What we learned was that coaching managers through these change initiatives were vital to ensuring continuity in production within an organization but also to maintaining a healthy company culture.

Kotter's 8 steps to change

When you want to implement an effective organizational change, there are many details to consider. The goal is to make the change initiative as smooth as possible. The change management process is defined as the set of operations put in place so that the company adapts to different types of change. It is, therefore, essential to appoint influential players within an organization to facilitate change management. According to John Kotter, a leading authority on leadership and organizational change, there are 8 stages of change. Here they are:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency
  2. Building a coalition
  3. Developing a vision
  4. Communication of the vision
  5. Incentive for action
  6. Demonstrating short-term results
  7. Consolidation of the first results to accelerate the change
  8. Implanting the new practices into the corporate culture

Kotter's model : 8 steps to change

At Proaction International, our approach is focused on supporting front-line managers. They are at the heart of an organization's performance, but they are also impacted by the change management process. Unfortunately, they are often ill-equipped to deal with the scope of their responsibilities.

Many transformational changes were required during the pandemic to resume normal business operations. Managers, who were at the heart of the decision-making process, had to be given special attention. Why did this happen? Because it had a direct impact on the success or failure of the recovery.

And you, how did you support your teams during these challenges?

Need help to support your teams in the challenges they face?

Our teams are here to help you develop the leadership of your managers and equip them for better change management. 

Anne-Laure Pierson

Anne-Laure Pierson

Director of operations