Unlocking Systemic Change: Three Ways Leaders Propel Transformation Beyond Crisis

Posted — Wednesday 15.04.2021

The pandemic has heightened the already difficult challenges of business transformation. We doubt there has been a single business that hasn’t needed or will need to transform.

COVID-19 has propelled us five to ten years into transformation future. We have previously explored the acceleration of digitalisation and the rise in social capital. In this Insight, we consider the need for leaders to now plan a strategic roadmap for a truly unpredictable future as transformation will now remain ’always on’. We’ll explore three steps that leaders can take to assist their businesses in addressing and embedding longer term changes.

Fundamental to the future of all businesses are our people; for our employees, COVID has turned things upside down in almost every aspect. There has been an extensive effort from leaders to demonstrate a greater degree of humanity and compassion.  In this new reality, to successfully transform beyond this crisis, this degree of humanity must remain.  

Realign your business strategy to a people strategy

The first step in recovery is to redefine your immediate strategic focus. Start by considering the following:

  • What investments do we need to make in digital platforms?
  • How have our customers transformed -are they engaging with us differently? If so, what’s the impact on our business? 
  • What changes have we seen in our supply chain?
  • Do we have a requirement to operate from the same office locations as pre-pandemic?
  • Have we saved costs in ways that were unanticipated – will this continue? 
  • Is our business plan fully stretching us? You may have been previously cautious about change, but the last 12 months have made you consider how important transformation is.

All of these strategic challenges will have a fundamental impact on your people agenda. None of your ambitious plans can occur without a capable and engaged workforce. It is, therefore, vital that you consider developing and aligning a people plan to support your business plan.

A people plan will follow from considering what you need from your people to deliver your business plan:

  • How many people will we need to achieve our plan?
  • What skills will be required?
  • How will we attract and recruit these desired skills?
  • Once on board, how will we retain them?
  • What do our existing staff think about us? What would they like to change? Are we prepared to change?
  • How will we develop existing people?
  • What strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities are we presented with?
  • Do we have gaps in succession that could impact our longer term plan?
  • Do our values still align to our societal positioning post-pandemic? 

The business plan and people plan need to work hand in hand, ensuring the impact of the business plan (such as a reduction in headcount due to digitalisation is fully captured and considered in the people plan. Typically, when reducing headcount, we would address the structure change, e.g. a reduction from five to four heads. However, today, it’s important to consider skills and talent. By removing headcount to reduce costs, you’re impacting your people plan. You should consider if skills can be utilised elsewhere – can they be used in a different way, or could the business plan be reconsidered to ensure that the skills are retained? Understandably, this is not always feasible in business, but if skills are scarce and critical, then a decision to reduce cost can drastically impact on the wider people strategic goals in attracting, developing and retaining these skills. 

Think strategically about your talent

Once a people plan is aligned to the business plan, it will be vital for leaders to take time to consider who is responsible for talent within your business carefully. For many, talent risk is not always seen as a major risk. However, in reality, an exodus of talent can impact on the delivery of your business plans in ways such as those discussed in business continuity planning sessions. It is, therefore, important that as leaders, you begin to discuss talent as a board agenda item:

  • Who do we consider to be our top talent?
  • How engaged is this population?
  • When did we last invest in them – training/remuneration review?
  • Are we clear on their personal development plans?
  • Does our operating structure support their development? Does our structure need to be revised accordingly?
  • How are we appealing to top talent on the external market – do we have a resourcing strategy that supports this?
  • Are we transparent in our career paths?
  • What top talent have we lost in the last period? Why are they leaving?

As leaders, you cannot forget the age-old risk of forgetting to consider talent in a way that you would consider other business risks. Talent is required for the future success of your business. 

Embed a culture of continuous improvement

Those businesses that have survived the revolution period of the pandemic will now, as they emerge from this period, be considering how to renew and adapt. This demands a systemic approach from businesses addressing the challenge of an uncertain but fundamentally altered post-COVID world. As we emerge and enter this new period of evolution, corporate culture has never been so important.  

As leaders, you will need to encourage your employees to harbour the learnings from these recent changes and use them to embed a culture of continuous improvement. Encourage yourselves as leaders and your employees to hold a mirror up and ask what you can do differently. Change has always been something risk averse businesses have run away from, but now as we emerge, we may be more open-minded and positive about improving our ways of working. Start by asking your teams:

  • What makes your role challenging – can this be improved?
  • Do we capture lessons learnt?
  • Can we improve our customer experience?
  • Do we celebrate the improvements we have made?
  • Do we generate lots of ideas and lose momentum when converting them into practice?

It’ll be important that you recognise and reward improvement work. It may be worthwhile incorporating a line in your business budget for improvement initiatives.  

As we emerge from the pandemic, it’ll be more critical than ever for leaders to focus on embedding system changes and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.  

If you would like assistance in developing a people plan or a discussion regarding change management, please get in touch to arrange a free, confidential 60-minute business consultation. Email: mj@pcwconsultinggroup.com.  

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