Image from National Aeronautics and Space Administration

As I share this diary with you, I remember an event that took place almost fifty years ago, to the day. I have a T-shirt that commemorates that event with a phrase on it that has inspired me in trying times for over 25 years. On the T-shirt appears “Failure is not an option”. When I reflect on what the world has been going through over the past few weeks, and will still have to endure in the next few years (not months), I remind myself that in times of catastrophic change, some things help us survive and emerge more robust at the end. Of course, you know I am talking about the Apollo 13 mission; a mission that failed to achieve its original purpose but was a triumph of the human spirit and ingenuity, facilitated by leaders of exceptional clarity of thought and purpose. I believe we are experiencing a similar crisis now that again calls for extraordinary leadership. Change has been thrust upon us, and the most significant determinant of whether we survive or not will be how well we manage this change.

Photo by David T

As leaders in our organisations, we need to be truly clear on what changes we need to make now, and failure is not an option for these critical changes that impact our people, our customers, and our businesses. It is becoming clear that this change will create a new ‘normal’ and we will need to adapt to that. So, in preparation for the time after we finally defeat Coronavirus (the enemy), we need to make changes now that are vital for the survival of our businesses. The most potent weapon we can use is to help people adopt and apply new ways of thinking and behaving. We have always called this change management.

Must-Win Projects

Until now, most of the projects that practitioners have brought with them to our courses have been less urgent, cost-efficiency/cutting, culture and occasionally, strategically essential changes. We predict the next batch will be bringing these ‘cannot fail’ projects. We can play a role in helping them, and their organisations create the right strategies to change their people; have them adopt, adapt and utilise their precious resources and time to affect these organisation-saving changes. To do this at times of restricted travel and gatherings, we too have changed at and Change™ and Prosci®.

The damage that will be wrought by this crisis will leave economies and organisations, those who survive, weaker and even more dependant on each other to recover. They may well need to collaborate within commercial eco-systems better and trade quicker and more efficiently than before. They will need to respond to customers better, understanding their needs almost before their customers do.

This action calls for a higher level of digitisation and information integration within a very short timeframe. So, I would guess that digitisation, supported by technologies like AI, would be a suitable candidate.

Change at a Personal Level

At a personal level, leaders and employees will have to be much more agile and resilient to sudden change, having personal tools to manage themselves and inspire their people to adopt whole new ways of working and thinking. This implies a competency to manage change at both personal and organisational level. Fortunately, we have tried and tested tools for this, based on a simple but powerful model of change, ADKAR®. If we can learn to apply this model to how we approach any change, quickly and effectively, we are likely to transition through the change much quicker and more completely. I would hold change management competency out as another candidate to put on the list. Let’s see how this could have changed the course of events in recent weeks, and for brevity sake, I will look only to awareness of the need to change and the desire to change as examples. We have looked at the other elements and can share these too.

I think there are valuable lessons we will learn from this period of radical change. I am confident that one of these is that building change capability and competency is critically important, in good times and bad. It is a hallmark of great leadership that gives us resilience and confidence to face even the most challenging change.