Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, health and wellbeing was a central theme for many change practitioners. Now it shouldn’t be a choice.
For a while, change programs were planned and communicated to align with a linear representation of the grieving process.
More recently, change practitioners have found inspiration in human-centred design. By using excellent tools and frameworks to co-construct a change or transformation with the person experiencing it, we listen to needs and motivations and aspirations. We then take everyone on a collaborative rollercoaster ride of iterative ideas, experiments and honour the often messy, cyclical nature of human beings experiencing change.
We use the Four Rooms of Change® to listen to, and appreciate the complex headspace of individuals and organisations experiencing transition or uncertainty so we can offer tailored support to help people move through their room, at their own pace.
The evolution of the change practice has undoubtedly helped us seek to understand and meet latent needs of the people we support. But perhaps we need to go one step further. Maybe we need to be better prepared when someone’s health and wellbeing needs are not being met. Are we willing to course correct? Can we use the beauty of an iterative process to easily adapt the program to meet emotional and psychological needs? It’s the insights from these questions (and what we do with them in planning and implementing change) which must be used to help everyone experiencing uncertainty now and into the future. It’s something which, in a post-COVID world, change practitioners, HR professionals and managers cannot ignore.
When we were supporting a significant operating model change in the health sector, there was a strong drive to make it care-led. The changes wouldn’t be welcome for most staff impacted. As part of the planning process, we included very deliberate ways to listen, consider and address staff wellbeing needs at every stage of the program quickly and with compassion.
In addition to business analysts, representatives from HR, IR and IT, the project team called upon expertise of in-house mental health professionals and recruitment and career advisors to guide activities and communication materials for the people impacted by the operating model changes.
A ‘health and care’ vision governed all processes and steps taken. From empathy and experience-mapping the entire lifecycle of change (day of the announcement, the following six months and up to the final day in the team) to carefully crafting messages alongside health and safety team members, the person experiencing the change was at the centre of the program. Readiness sessions helped managers articulate, refine and rehearse difficult team conversations weeks before it needed to happen, all the while checking in on their own energy levels and mindset. There was a strong care-factor.
Various supports were set up along the program at times when an individual’s health and wellbeing may be at risk; the announcement of the change, the farewell of a colleague, the introduction of a new process, the outcome of a recruitment process, for example. At one point, a major staffing milestone was adjusted, delaying the ‘go-live’ date by two weeks, to provide additional support sessions to staff who expressed anxiety and concern.
While the program was deemed a success (despite its two-week delay), there are still opportunities to reflect. Did our efforts help people feel less anxious or worried about the change? Did we do enough to support as many people who needed our support? How can we keep in touch with the ongoing health and wellbeing needs for those who stayed in the organisation and did those leaving feel respected and honoured for their hard work? A question many CEOs are asking themselves now, am I doing enough to support my people through this proverbial storm we’re in?
While many are conducting COVID pulse surveys to ask what more can be done to help remote working, physical work set ups and general wellbeing, let's go beyond the survey, use it's insights to help shape and continue the conversation. The social isolation will be taking its toll by now and while some may be hesitant to admit it, we’re missing the office and each other, after all, we feel safer in numbers. These insights are important to help shape the returning workforce and rebuild engagement and wellbeing. If the pandemic has taught us anything in terms of change practice, it’s a reminder about empathy and care. A reminder to keep listening carefully to what our teams are feeling and saying so we can understand what’s needed and then respond carefully and thoughtfully in our programs. When we start reimagining the post-COVID workplace or operating model or customer experience or digital platform, we must do so with care and compassion at the forefront.