Transitioning to the new reality

WITH a lot of things currently happening in Zimbabwe, the state of transitioning in the country looks so disorganised and unpredictable.The complex political situation in Zimbabwe — characterised by corruption, social and economic turmoil, massive job losses and income depletion, coupled with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, has taken the change phase to a new level of complexity.

Robert Mandeya

Without a clear vision, leaders and sponsors of change must actively work to bring the new normal into focus, even as circumstances continue to evolve. It is my considered view that to successfully guide organisations and people through this unique transition state, leaders should pay attention and focus their energies on three key areas of responsibility:

Attaining stability

Leaders are continuing to work on stabilising business operations as a result of the involuntary changes thrust upon all of us by the pandemic. This is rightly taking up the bulk of most leaders’ attention, probably 50 to 60% of their time. Key issues include pivots to new business models and product offerings, understanding the larger business landscape by connecting with other leaders, and ensuring that sound practices in change management are applied to the stabilisation activities by engaging and empowering the change practitioners within their organisation. Whilst all this is happening, the greatest challenge is identifying the internal change agents or champions to drive the paradigm shift.

Leaders must realise they need to be visible, communicative and accountable during this transition phase. They also need to understand that all employees may be starting from different current states. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work effectively, especially with the added stress on employees dealing with unprecedented uncertainties. Identifying change champions from the employees in this state requires a lot of discernment and deliberate moves to stabilise the workforce by instilling confidence in them.

Locating the new reality

The questions most leaders should be asking are: “What is our organisation’s new reality going to look like? Where do we need to invest and innovate?” This means evaluating go-to-market strategies, how to promote products given the constraints, and how to build any new knowledge and ability within the teams in marketing, sales and general administration.

Supply chains will need further adjustments, especially if your future state cannot revert to former approaches. Technology requirements are likely to be a big focus for organisations, which continue to work with a remote workforce. And any plans for returning to in-person service delivery or in-office work will require quite a bit of planning and effort. Leadership teams need to devote time to defining these future-state requirements.

Pivoting on the new reality

The key role for leaders today is to bring clarity to the deliberate pivots and priorities that will need to be flawlessly executed across the enterprise. The leaders and sponsors need to bring clarity of purpose, and drive awareness and desire for these pivots.

Specific clarity about the future state, as compared to the current state (that is, before the pandemic), will help employees better understand what has really changed and why. It is also imperative that the challenges of transition be acknowledged as part of the overall planning and communication drive.

Practicing empathy for people

Given the hectic nature of current events, it is easy to get caught up in the urgent matters of the day, especially when so much is at stake for many organisations.

Leaders tend to view the transitional state of change as necessary and messy, and best left to change and project teams to work through the details. But for a leader, the transitional phase is a critical time to focus on empathy, understand what your people are going through, and show them that they matter.
It is important to realise that during any transition, people feel uncertain. The pandemic has them worried about their families, health and job security. Just as many are overwhelmed by increased workloads and the fatigue that sets in when organisations become saturated with change — an issue every organisation faces at times, with or without a pandemic.

As a leader, you should find ways to check in with employees at a personal level. Acknowledge what they may be dealing with personally. Tell them that you want to know how they are feeling and the challenges they are facing.

This enables you, as a leader, to better communicate to others what the transition means to them as well. Then, share this with the teams that were created to execute these pivots and initiatives. Ask for assurance that their execution plans have taken into account the concerns of employees and then communicate to employees the steps you took, as a leader, to incorporate their concerns. You will be amazed at how much this is appreciated.

Change is individual

Whether your organisation has experienced an involuntary digital transformation or workforce reduction, or even if you are doing business as usual, every individual in your organisation has experienced significant change because of the pandemic. Now that the urgency has waned, the transitional phase can feel like the time to divert your attention elsewhere, but your leadership is more important than ever. Moving your organisation forward through the transition demands requires unrelenting focus — so your people can keep moving forward with you.

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925.

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