How organisations can embrace uncertainty to discover better ways of working

by Aaron Slater, on 20 Apr 2020 4 min read


We caught up Jane Ginnever, a change management expert, to find out how innovation leaders can help organisations embrace change – during the Coronavirus crisis and beyond.

“If we can’t learn things from this crisis it will be a missed opportunity” 

Sometimes change happens slowly, sometimes it happens all at once. Sometimes it’s self-initiated, at other times you’re adapting to things which are out of your control.

In any case, one of the most challenging aspects of change is encouraging the people around you to embrace it. We are creatures of habit. Our working lives are made up of countless familiar patterns and processes. When these things get disrupted, it can make us feel uneasy.

In fact, our Innovation Blockers report found that getting staff to embrace change – which can include working in new ways – is one of the most common challenges that enterprise innovators face.

At the moment, we find ourselves in a world which is changing at a rapid pace. Each of us is having to get used to new ways of working and it isn’t yet clear when things will return to normal, or what that ‘normal’ will look like. However, the basic principles of managing change still apply.

We caught up with Jane Ginnever, the founder of Shift, a change management and innovation consultancy, to discuss how organisations can help employees embrace change and why it’s important to focus on the fundamentals.

“Good leadership is good leadership”

Change can present opportunities, but it also brings uncertainty. When people feel uncertain they look to their leaders for reassurance. Even if the situation is totally out of your control, effective leadership can reassure people that the organisation is looking out for everyone’s best interests. 

“Good leadership is good leadership, in times of crisis and not. Leaders who have the trust of the people that they’re working with are in a much better position to instigate change. 

“When there is uncertainty, people will look for certainty about something else. I think as leaders we need to try and provide that. In this case, being able to provide some certainty that staff are trusted to work from home, that they can work from home and that the company will support them in every way that it can. That’s really helpful for getting people to embrace the changes they’re facing.”

“Bring the team in”

It's important to work through change collaboratively. By involving people and asking them to participate, you give them a stake in the process. It also gives you the chance to explain what the reasons for the change are, how the organisation is responding and what the expected outcomes are.

“I’m always a huge advocate of getting people involved in the conversation about change. Sometimes we don’t focus enough on communicating what the outcomes we are looking for are or ask people how they think we can achieve them.

“In a crisis, it’s a bit more black and white because, for instance, the government has mandated that everyone has to work from home so that’s what we’re doing. But in more normal times, the driver might be around attracting more women into senior roles. Flexible working can be an answer for that. But quite often we don’t focus enough on why we’re trying to do something. The message that goes out is just ‘we’re introducing flexible working’.

“Leaders miss a trick through not sharing that because once you have an idea of why a change is being put in place, what outcome is being sought, then you understand better why a company is doing things in the way that they are.”

Sharing the background and your goals will also give you an opportunity to ask the rest of the organisation how they think you should respond.

“Leaders might know what the goal is, but they don’t always know how to get there. For instance, the goal might be to have everyone keep working from home. But then you also have to work out how you are going to achieve the levels of performance that you need. That’s when you need to bring the team in. Once you get lots of different minds involved in that conversation, you get lots of different perspectives which can lead to much better solutions.”

“This is a real opportunity”

Change can be challenging for leaders and staff. But it also gives you an opportunity to reflect on how you currently work and look for improvements. It can draw attention to deep-seated structural or systemic weaknesses that otherwise would have gone unnoticed, or provide a valuable new perspective on the status quo.

“Situations like this are a real opportunity to learn about how we work most effectively. I think that every team needs to be having conversations about how they’re working together. And when this is over, they need to be thinking about what worked well, what was it that enabled us to keep going, what is it we need to do more of, what’s important to us as a team and what makes us tick?

“If we can’t learn useful things from this crisis then it will be a real missed opportunity. It won’t all have been good, people will have had challenges, some things will have gone wrong. But things that have gone right should be highlighted for people, so they can work out not just whether they continue working remotely, but what the elements were that worked.”

Some of Jane’s clients have been having exactly these kinds of conversations recently. She was able to join one of their sessions to hear more about their experiences.

“People were expressing surprise about how productive they’ve been. The ability to focus or choose when you connect with others is so much greater when you’re able to work remotely. I think that people were really surprised by it. It’s things like that which are changing people’s assumptions about how the world needs to work. To me, that’s a good thing.”

Thanks to Jane for taking the time to provide this valuable insight. If you’d like to learn more about how you can encourage staff to embrace new ideas and take part in the change management process, download a copy of our Innovation Blockers report. It’s full of expert advice from Jane and other innovation experts designed to help you overcome common enterprise innovation challenges.

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Topics:Business StrategyChange & Transformation