The Leading and Embracing Change workshops I have been running for organisations and business schools this year have all started with an open discussion of what we have learnt about change and business.
The following are some of the choicest nuggets from the workshops.
1. Sustainability is not only about the environment
When discussing the subject of sustainability, we used to focus exclusively on the environment and society — our carbon footprint, our green credentials, how we were serving the communities in which we operate — all laudable and vital components of responsible capitalism. But we took financial sustainability for granted. No longer. COVID-19 has reminded us of the value of a strong balance sheet and recurring revenues.
Many of my clients spent the first part of the pandemic securing their finances and the second part working out what their customers could value so much that they would pay them for it on a monthly basis.
2. Strategic clarity enables innovation and flexibility
They then went back to basics and took a closer look at their strategic fundamentals: why they exist, for whom, what makes them special and what gives them the right to succeed.
The answers to these questions are the bedrock of the business, enabling our people to come up with innovative ways to serve our customers with new products and services, challenged by the new at-home working environment and waves of restrictions.
3. Change is not only inevitable, it is a part of life
COVID-19 reminded us, very loudly, of the inevitability of change. And yet, I sense that many of us are still clinging on to the hope that change is impermanent. We are waiting for things to get back to the way they were.
Not only is this hope in vain, it is a dangerous fable. Things will not be going back to the way they were, and even a “new normal” will be transient. Change is constant. It is not an off, it is not a project. It is a constant part of life. We need to expect it and look for the opportunities.
4. Mental health really matters
Anxiety levels went through the roof during the first wave of COVID-19 and it has been an ever-present background hum to our lives ever since. We learnt that anxiety is not something that only happened to others and that it can be devastating and incapacitating.
No one performs at their best when anxious. Leaders across the globe learnt that the wellbeing and welfare of their people are paramount for business success.
5. We can change incredibly quickly if we have to
If someone had told you to lead a change program that moved 90 per cent of your employees to working from home, the planning alone would have taken months and it would have taken years to implement.
Most businesses did it in days. We can change if we have to — and if we have a strong emotional reason for doing so.
6. Our people can be trusted and work/life balance is a genuine goal, not just a slogan
We learnt that people can work well from home. We learnt to be more human, more understanding, more empathetic. For many of us, our homes became our workplaces. One of my webinar delegates attended the entire session with her Cocker Spaniel on her lap.
The dog was fascinated by all of the faces on the screen and appeared to be following the session intently. I phoned one company’s customer service line and was put through a brilliant operator who was serenaded by her pet parrot, squawking “Can I help you?” continually in the background.
7. The ability to embrace change is the most important skill of all
We learnt that if our people aren’t able to accept and embrace change, we will not succeed. We learnt that emotion trumps logic every time when it comes to change. We learnt that we undergo a rollercoaster of emotions during times of change — and that these emotions are OK.
We learnt that we all erect our own personal barriers — and that they can be overcome.
We learnt that the power to change lies within every single one of us and the organisations that can help their people to harness it will be set up for success — no matter what the future brings.
Campbell Macpherson is a sought-after speaker and international business adviser on leadership, strategy and change who splits his time between Australia and the UK. He is a keynote speaker, Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author. His first book, The Change Catalyst (Wiley 2017), won 2018 Business Book of the Year in London. His latest book, The Power to Change (Kogan Page 2020) has just been shortlisted for the 2021 Business Book Awards.