There is no denying that organisations have had to undergo sudden, enforced change. Many organisations have already invested significantly to adjust to a new business as (un)usual. The rush to a virtual way of working has been a well-publicised example of rapid digital transformation, organisational adjustment and behavioural change. It is already hard to imagine everything simply rubber-banding back to how it was, pre-crisis. Would we wish it to anyway? Let’s explore key learnings from the current crisis and questions we ought to be considering at this time.
Organisations have had no choice but to face current challenges head on. Governments have likened their response to being on a wartime footing. As part of the call to ‘fight’ the virus, organisations have had to demonstrate versatility. Whether this is Burberry manufacturing surgical gowns and masks or ‘Project Pitlane’, in which Formula 1 teams are manufacturing and delivering respiratory devices.
It is impressive to witness what can be achieved in a short space of time. Rapid progress through hyper-focus is an approach often adopted in agile environments. Indeed, agile approaches are designed to respond quickly to change and to seek out new ways of creating results in a changing world. The opportunity for team members to come together and collaboratively swarm on problem-solving demands creativity and a willingness to try things out. Focussed teams can be used to great effect, whether it’s to create long-range radar in wartime or attempting to produce a COVID-19 vaccine at pace.
Problem-solving requires innovation, critical thinking, creativity and commitment to find a way forward. Can organisations now continue to pull together and commit to tackle problems with greater urgency, persistence and laser-guided focus?
This principle of partnership through purpose also extends to the wider public who have been answering the call to support and utilise their skills and competencies in unexpected ways. This questions many of the traditional constructs which exist, such as organisational rivalries, competition, protectionism and societal boundaries. How can we collaborate more effectively?
Now consider project delivery. There is a clear need for effective project leadership through the current crisis. Rather than simply project managing against pre-defined, pre-crisis criteria, there is a clear need to step back, assess and position the organisation’s portfolio of projects according to current organisational need (rather than the strategy that was perhaps entirely valid only a few weeks ago). This is not to panic, but to ensure that the right projects are in play, thereby avoiding unnecessary waste. Deciding which projects ought to start, continue or stop will enable organisations to navigate through the current situation. Projects are a key enabler for organisational change. Since it is a necessity for organisations to adapt at pace, there is a clear need to innovate and adjust quickly. Projects are a catalyst for this. For many, this will enable organisational survival in the immediate term whilst ensuring growth and opportunity going forwards. Do we have sufficient project leadership capability? Do we have the necessary project delivery competency.
There are varying views regarding the UK government’s state of readiness for the current pandemic, even though it was at the top of the National Risk Register. There is potentially a wider learning here for organisations to actively manage and prepare for risks materialising. Keeping live risks actively managed with effective responses in place is a challenge, but a necessary one. If we consider other major risks we face, such as the forthcoming impacts of climate change, the same questions regarding preparedness need to be continually assessed. Are we ready for further future threats and challenges? What opportunities do these risks pose for us?
For many, the lived experience is far from one-dimensional. Organisations and individuals are experiencing challenges with health, well-being, income shock and problems with supply and demand. It’s times like this that organisations have an opportunity to pull together and act more like a ‘family’ than simply a place of work. Giving people the support they need requires empathy and understanding. If we consider the personal change curve and diagnose (with absolute honesty) where we are right now, we can start to understand our personal change journeys and those of our colleagues. Are we in shock, in denial, experiencing anger, feeling depressed, exploring possibilities or committing to new ways? There are great opportunities here to find new and different ways of supporting each other. The crucial thing is that we continue to have caring conversations, whilst supporting our organisations through the challenges that still lie ahead. Considerations that perhaps enable us to hold these conversations include; Do I really listen? How empathetic am I? How can we strengthen our resilience? What are we aspiring to achieve?
Organisations have had to make changes before; the 2007-2008 financial crisis is one example. These situations require us to change. There is a ‘letting go’ dimension here, for which we will all need support. The future, however it shapes, requires us not to hold on to everything as it was and simply hope things will return to the way they were pre-crisis. Things have already changed, with some organisations investing heavily in these changes and feeling the pain of sudden transformation. People are coming to terms with new patterns and contexts.
This leads us to consider opportunity. Rather than resisting, preserving and maintaining we ought to be pattern-breaking; focussing on creating, collaborating and supporting. This challenges us all to consider our own mindset. As we go through our personal experiences of change during this crisis, we need to ensure that where we end up enables us to contribute effectively in the ‘new world’. Is my mindset helpful? How is my mindset framing my actions and behaviour? How we can take the positives from the current situation and adapt for the future?
The challenge to organisations right now is to consider how best to handle the changes we face and embrace new ways of operating. Many of these changes are likely to become part of a new way of operating. Hopefully some good will then have come from this enforced transformation.
USW Project Management Facilitator and Director of Annovista Ltd.
The University of South Wales works closely with Annovista Ltd. deliver a range of Project Management workshops, from accredited open-access courses in PRINCE2, AgilePM, MSP and Change Management to tailored and customised solutions for your teams and organisation. Our virtual change series is coming soon, if you’re interested in finding out more, arrange a virtual meeting with us by emailing email@example.com