How Leaders Can Leverage Change Management to Support Culture Post-Quarantine
Just a few months ago, we were cheers-ing at company wedding showers, sharing snacks in the break room, and chatting around our water bottle filling stations. Company culture is one of many things that has been affected by the rapid changes to work environments this year. In a short amount of time, we’ve completely redefined the way we work, collaborate, and socialize. As leaders make plans for returning to the office, it’s important to consider how this transition will further affect culture. Effective change management can help prepare team members for the next phase and support culture in a world where everyone is six feet apart.
Define the Vision: Managing change starts with clearly defining a vision. Keeping culture in mind as they cast their vision can help leaders set their post-quarantine office life plans up for success. Start by outlining what needs to change, why it should change, and the benefits of the change. Be sure to identify specific behavior changes that will be exhibited in the future state and consider how the new normal will align with your organizational values and culture. These steps will ultimately help team members understand the need for and advantages of change.
Develop the Blueprint: As much as possible, include team members in planning to solicit buy-in and ensure they understand the “why” behind the changes. Surveys and regular discussions about your plan can be helpful in assessing how your team is feeling. Be transparent in addressing the areas where change may be the most significant and develop ways to support your team. This will require some tradeoffs and a good bit of creativity. For example, we typically celebrate Thinker anniversaries each quarter with a dinner party prepared and hosted by our CEO in his home. Since this type of gathering isn’t in the cards right now and we know our team looks forward to these dinners every year, we’re celebrating with a virtual dinner party, complete with take-home meals prepared by a local organization that helps underemployed individuals become more financially stable. Not only are we able to celebrate in a way that’s similar to how we did things before, we’re also able to give back to the community.
Implement the Plan: As changes are rolled out, resistance is inevitable. A genuine focus on culture turns resistance to change into a shared purpose. Some team members may feel disconnected, discouraged, or even resentful about a different work environment at the office. Rather than turning away from resistance to new cultural norms, keep lines of communication open, and stay flexible. Ask for regular input. Truly listening and empathizing with employees as they adjust to more change is crucial leadership behavior.
Sustain the Change: This article puts it well: “The workplace of tomorrow will require more teamwork than ever before. Leaders need to embrace—and facilitate—this reality.” Checking in with team members, listening, and showing empathy are going to be very important as leaders seek to sustain culture in a new office environment. There are going to be some elements of your plan that do not work the way you thought they would. If something isn’t working, remain open to changing the plan. Continuing to make it safe for your team members to share their feelings helps relieve some of the stress that comes with adopting new practices. This kind of freedom allows your team to continue to work toward the same goal and reinforces an encouraging culture during this transitional period.
Companies may define culture, but the individuals who make up our organizations bring it to life. While company potlucks may not be back for a while, involving team members in your plan for returning to the office, and accounting for areas where culture will shift, can help to not only sustain culture but strengthen it during an out-of-the-ordinary time.