This year has been one of significant challenges. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect upon the economy — at the end of May, it was reported that some 40 million U.S. workers had lost their jobs. While much of this state could prove to be temporary, it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods, and there could be further challenges to come.
There have been many contributing factors to the issues businesses have faced, not the least of which is inconsistent messaging from governments. While resources have been made available to help mitigate some of the financial burdens, there has been little in the way of practical advice that can give businesses, their employees, and customers the confidence to navigate this difficult time.
So, what are some strategies that business leaders should employ to cope with upheaval during a pandemic? We’re going to take a look at key areas of focus, and tools that can make a difference. By starting to gain a deeper understanding of effective change management now, businesses can not only weather the current storm but have a strategy for crises of the future.
Emergency Change Planning and Assessment
Change, when it comes out of the blue, can be traumatic. As such, it is only natural that business leaders and employees can be waylaid by the first few aspects of the seven stages of change: shock, frustration, and depression. However, one of the vital tools in navigating toward the last stage — integration — is taking proactive, practical, manageable steps to respond. One way to help regain control of the change process is putting a plan in place.
This isn’t going to be like any other change plan, such as that you’d put in place in the build-up to scaling your business or outgrowing your office space. But some of the elements remain the same. Bring together a group of key staff from all departments, and start to put the following in place:
Determine who are the stakeholders in the change, and who will perform leadership roles in implementing changes. They will need to take ultimate responsibility for providing guidance and undertaking regular reviews of progress.
Outline the reasons for the change in operations, how this has changed your business model, and what the current challenges are.
Clarify what the most immediate needs of the business, employees, and customers are, and discuss how these needs can be met.
Agree on a clear, but flexible path forward. Each section of change must include opportunities to reassess the situation and make alterations accordingly.
One of the most important aspects of building a change management plan is communicating this to all stakeholders in the business. This helps give workers and customers alike the confidence in your ability to recognize the challenges, and move forward effectively.
Adopting Financial Tools
Finances can be particularly precarious during a pandemic. Among the challenges company accountants face are undertaking assessments to quantify financial damage to assets and seeking allowances for expected credit losses. They have a responsibility not just to mitigate problems, but gaining an insight into their potential to affect the big picture of the business. As part of change management during a pandemic, leaders should be researching the tools that are available to help ease their burden.
One approach could include adopting invoice templates, designed in advance to suit the various services the business offers. This can help streamline the accounting process, by allowing accountants to focus less on the administrative tasks, and more on the financial strategies that can help the business adapt to changes. Using templates is also well suited to remote working practices, as it’s not reliant on specific company software to complete.
Part of the change management strategy may also include leaning into alternative sources of revenue — particularly those that don’t rely on in-person customer interactions. Rather than expecting financial staff to set up transaction processes, it’s worth considering utilizing current e-commerce platforms in the first stages of this change in direction. Vendors such as Shopify and Squarespace not only help make this practical but provide useful data; including sales figures and inventory numbers.
Change management during a pandemic is not just about dealing with the immediate fallout — although that’s certainly a priority. It’s also making certain that you consider how you move forward from the crisis. How your business and your employees can emerge not only as survivors but a success.
This must include making peace with the idea that the ambitions you may have had for the company will need to change. The new normal may not involve a return to your previous, comfortable practices. Keep an open dialogue with all the stakeholders and make it clear that you will actively encourage innovative thinking. While COVID-19 may have been disastrous, it’s also an opportunity to help your colleagues feel closer to the business, to consider outside of the box thinking, and make everybody a part of the solution.
You’ll also need to communicate to your loyal customers how you intend to emerge, and what the changes will be. You can treat this in much the same way as if you were rebranding, making content posts on social media to show that your new direction is no longer a glitch in your normal operations, but a feature of an exciting future. Engage meaningfully, and — as with every aspect of the change management process — take time to make regular assessments of the response.
We are living in uncertain times, and businesses are having to accept the fact that things are likely to be very different for the foreseeable future. Take the time to step back from the chaos, assess the situation, and bring colleagues together to make plans. Be open to new tools and innovations. Perhaps the best approach to managing change is understanding how it can make what you do even better.