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Charting a crisis: Bolstering business continuity with organizational change management

How to adjust business continuity plans during the COVID-19 crisis

April 10, 2020 | By: Paul Burton and Kelly O’Neill

profesionally collaborates with his team using video conferencing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Navigating the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Our first and foremost priorities are ensuring we’re supporting our employees, consultants and clients across the globe. As a full-stack technology and talent partner, we want to share our experience and offer support in how to alleviate the uncertainty around workplace services support as many businesses shift to a primarily remote workforce for an indefinite period of time.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has challenged companies to manage their enterprises in newfound ways. In the short term, they’re facing enormous scope changes to their business plans; in the long term, they must adapt and continue to make progress on their original goals.

Expected change can be hard enough in ordinary circumstances. Leading forced change management for an organization, all while being virtual, can be even harder. Depending on the magnitude of your working environments, you may feel that you’re not equipped to manage this dynamic, uncertain change—but you’re further along than you think.
While many companies have an organizational change management (OCM) program around technical aspects, focusing and evolving your contingency plans and business continuity best practices around your people will help you navigate this new working culture—and keep productivity up and running.

Build a framework for communication and business continuity

Most organizations will be expected to perform as they were prior to the pandemic but will have to do it differently through virtual and remote management. If you had a business continuity plan in place, you’ll need to make sure it covers all the needs of the business. This includes understanding how to make decisions with uncertainty—what is the best approach to maintain focus on execution, collaborate and communicate remotely, and keep the business going?

To do this, organizations need to ensure their business strategy incorporates crisis management, disaster recovery and risk management in order to adapt and get back on track to true business efforts. And fueling that productivity may look differently than before—such as building new progress dashboards or utilizing new collaboration tools. Keep in mind that change initiatives aren’t all the same, so the approach should be flexible and scalable to match the needs of the business. This means making sure you’re implementing OCM activities that provide the most value and desired outcomes. Using structured change management approaches will help build change awareness as your employees become more comfortable with new ways of working, such as:

  • Serving as extensions of, and connections between, project teams and impacted team members
  • Implementing feedback channels to gauge communications effectiveness, adoption, areas of resistance and areas of acceptance
  • Enabling and increasing the use of virtual/remote demonstrations, training, coaching and continuous improvement with the use of collaborative tools
  • Providing sustained support at the peer level

Creating a structured communications approach for remote work that supports employees will help them remain efficient in their roles without distractions. This includes best practice methods to ensure employees and customers are aware of the current situation, how it impacts them, and the new processes and procedures required to do their jobs. Fear of the unknown and uncertainty is a big aspect of people unable to remain productive, and any ad hoc approaches to manage employees that aren’t engaged or prepared won’t be effective. Organizations that can clearly and consistently communicate will be able to help calm fears and ultimately sustain business continuity.

Understand how your employees will be impacted

Many project plans are often centered around technology—not people or process. Historically, crisis concerns have primarily revolved around protecting telecommunications, broadband networks, servers and data for companies to continue to operate securely. Now, there’s a need for organizations to focus on connecting their people to each other and leveraging facilitation skills to foster communications.

In an OCM framework, best practice methods and procedures are used to determine the impact change has on stakeholders, and how to manage that impact to ensure effectiveness. What’s sometimes missing is the ability to tap into how stakeholders “experience” the change. For example, OCM helps manage employee challenges and new methods to enable them to stay productive on the job. Targeted communications can help address challenges with social distancing, working in a remote environment, or managing virtual meetings and conference calls. Therefore, it’s important to execute a communication strategy that quickly shifts employees into a remote model that they’re previously not accustomed to, in a way that still supports them.

It’s also critical to increase ways for employees to provide feedback and escalate issues or concerns in a virtual or remote environment. Not having a feedback loop can slow change adoption immensely, or even cause it to fail. Targeted training can be provided to ensure employees are aware of the tools and techniques available to provide feedback in a remote environment and stay connected with team members and managers. In addition, prioritizing communication lines will provide you a more holistic view across teams, as well as help to lift productivity dips that inevitably occur during transition states.

Setting guidelines and expectations for virtual work will help keep people focused and productive during times of uncertainty. Many employees have never had to host or participate in virtual meetings before—they may not be sure how to act or may not be confident in using virtual technology or collaboration tools right away. Providing empowering training and development to your company, such as virtual team management coaching and collaboration management, can help employees pivot, adopt new ways of working and operate productively.

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Navigate the now while planning for the future

In the short term, organizations may find themselves looking for business continuity templates and contingency packages to help communicate to their teams and set processes in place—all of which will certainly help to begin navigating their change management.

However, it’s critical to consider the bigger picture and ensure your program is adaptable to not only your new environment, but one that is also sustainable for the long term—with the ability to evolve as developments, in any kind of crisis, continue to change. By developing and fostering the behavioral changes within a people-focused OCM plan for remote work, employees will be able to continue to hone those skills when operations return to “normal” and stay aligned in new capacities once back at the office. Employees that have learned new skills in remote collaboration and self-management will be even more effective when put in unique situations beyond today’s COVID-19 crisis.

Structuring your OCM plan in this way will better speak to the nature of your workforce so they become more elastic, which can enhance productivity and increase efficiencies. Organizations will be better positioned to deal with similar crises in the future, with the ability to scale up or down with ease.

It comes down to the synergy between people, process and technology

What we’re experiencing today boils down to an individual level where we must manage our teams and ourselves, while leveraging the right tools to succeed. Managing the people most impacted by change as you move forward in transitioning your organization’s operations will help build stronger commitment and momentum, reduce stakeholder resistance and increase speed of adoption. And the resulting benefits can sustain transformation in the long term, whether you were planning for it or not.

A few tips to help navigate forced change management and adjust business continuity plans amid COVID-19:

  • Focus on the big picture. The strategic business goals and objectives that mattered yesterday matter more now. Tactics may need to be updated, but staying focused on the big picture is critical for business performance.
  • Adapt to new ways of productivity. This may include building new virtual dashboards on project or team progress, remote status meetings and team brainstorming sessions, or utilizing different collaboration tools to support remote communications. Whatever the case—remain flexible and provide support to project teams and impacted team members.
  • Clearly and consistently communicate. Creating a structured communications format and setting expectations for remote work will help keep people focused and productive during times of uncertainty.
  • Increase ways for employees to provide feedback and escalate issues or concerns. This will help you gauge communications effectiveness, adoption and areas of resistance.
  • Enable continuous improvement. Training and development, such as virtual team management coaching and collaboration management, can help employees pivot, adopt new ways of working and operate productively.
  • Build in elasticity. As you adjust your business continuity plans for the now, ensure your program is sustainable for the long term—with the ability to evolve as developments, in any kind of crisis, continue to change.

Paul Burton serves as a practice architect for TEKsystems Global Services. He has more than 25 years of experience in organizational change and project management, focusing on end-user adoption to ensure users understand new solutions that can positively impact their jobs.

Kelly O’Neill is an enterprise services practice architect for TEKsystems Global Services. With over 20 years of experience, she is an expert in business transformation, architecture and solution services, and strategy and engagement management.