Being Innovative and Adaptable – The People Piece

Businesses are already making and facing significant innovative changes in response to the post Covid 19 world. As organisational psychologists we have no better insight on what those changes will look like than you owners, managers, or employees. What we can offer, though, is a perspective on the people piece of making change. 

Many of us are feeling relieved and excited about getting back to work, to getting our business open again. Many of us are at the same time also feeling quite anxious and concerned. Whether we are an employee or the owner, we have concerns about whether it is safe to be at work, whether our job is secure and how our workmates are faring.  As the business owner we will also be concerned about how to get it back on track and what changes must be made for our business survive and thrive.

History shows us that Pandemics and Recessions accelerate innovation – the adage “necessity is the mother of invention” still holds. Many of the innovations and changes will not be completely new ideas or inventions, rather ideas that have been around for a while and this situation gives them greater traction eg driverless vehicles, on-line shopping.  Many people previously resistant to on-line shopping but who have had to during lockdown may now continue to use this method.

One definite post Covid 19 trend will be greater use of digital technology to deliver products and services that have been done face to face. This will cover Health services, including mental health services as well as general practice diagnostic services (you send a picture of the rash on your arm to the doctor). Mental health services will be increasingly delivered digitally, and they will have to, to meet the increasing demand. The younger people do seem willing to have counselling services digitally delivered, even delivered a “Siri.”

Government services will be increasingly delivered digitally. Many of us happily do our tax returns, apply for passports, renew our insurances, book our travel online. We do these things without too much concern about privacy trade – off. Contact tracing is an example where there is a concern about the trade off – privacy and big brother government vs the health benefit.

Contradictions and trade offs are ongoing issues as we progress with greater use of digital tech and automation: the loss of traditional jobs, the loss of personal contact, who has access to our data and who owns it.  Who should be working at home, who has direct client contact? 

One real challenge is being able to predict and create a picture of the end point for our staff and colleagues. We find change easier when we think that once this new system is in place things will settle down – a new plateau that we can visualise. However, this is difficult to promise at any time and especially not now. Change is unlikely to be made in small steps followed a consolidation.

What is the common factor here? It is us  – people.

We are contradictory creatures; we want the convenience of home delivery of fast food but are saddened when our favourite little ethnic restaurant closes. We want to be back to work to connect with our workmates and our customers; we want to get to a crowded bar, a concert or footy game, but we worry about that guy who just sneezed or sits too close to me at work.

Living and getting on with life requires us to accept risks, which we have always done.  Sometimes the risk was so common that we discount it, or the benefit to us outweighs the downside, and sometimes we believe we can control the risk. (eg driving a car).

What does this mean for Surviving and Thriving in the post Covid 19 business environment.

We know that we must innovate and adapt. We also know that it is individuals who have to make the change, not a system or technology. Whether you are the one leading the change or simply following it,  each of us must change ourselves and recognise that other individuals each have to make their own change.

If you are the one leading the change how do you facilitate your staff, or customers or suppliers to make the changes you want?

The first and fundamental step is explaining the rationale is for the change, why it is needed and what the affect will be on each person while acknowledging that each person needs to process it in their own way.  Next is to accept that some will more readily accept change (early adopters) and others will be more hesitant and slower to change. This hesitance can be because they fear the new uncertain place to the certainty they have now (even when it is not a nice place). In other cases, a person resists change because they are successful or comfortable under the present situation and think they will be worse off under the new scenario.

You can engage early adopters to help get the message across to the wider group. Generally, the middle group will come aboard following the early adopters. Do not spend too much time trying to persuade the reluctant people. It can make them the leaders the attention they get. Let them come along in their own time. If they simply will not come aboard it matters that their workmates see that they were given the option and assistance to adjust.

When we understand the why and what we can decide how to respond. Feeling that we could participate in the decision and were allowed time to make the change also helps us adjust.

What about my individual responsibility to change?

We all have responsibility to change ourselves. Even as the boss you must adapt to rules imposed others – to customer’s demands, to the bank. Understanding your reactions to these imposed changes can help you see how your staff may be feeling about changes you want them to make.

As an employee, you do have a responsibility to work with your manager, workmates or clients regarding change. This means making your concerns known to your manager, listening to others concerns, not expecting that all your needs will be met,  trying to look on the positive side and embracing technology.

Final Thought.

People are more creative and cooperative when they feel safe. Your Employees/co-workers are more likely to help change the business when they know the reason for change, what the end goal looks like, and their inputs and concerns are respected. Being afraid for your position feeling you don’t know what is happening encourages hiding mistakes, avoiding risk and patch protection.

Some business advisors are promoting rapid and deep change and saying that new people will be easy to find in the labour market. But doing it right and bringing employees along with you, whether new or existing, will make for a smoother transition and more sustainable outcome 

Many of these things about achieving successful change are in the “easier to say than to do” category. An Organisational Psychologist will be able to help make the “doing” easier.