Responding to change in times of uncertainty – COVID19

We are all experiencing unprecedented pressure, as public facing organisations at the heart of communities, as vulnerable organisations often reliant on the public to remain viable, as employers and a source of income for countless freelance and casual workers, and as family members, friends and neighbours of people who are concerned and affected in myriad ways by this public health crisis.

We are all being tested in new ways and on multiple dimensions. How do we respond to the social, financial, personal and economic pressures we are experiencing today, and that might unfold tomorrow?

We know that organisational and social change is often hampered by complacency, everyday pressures and critically, the lack of a galvanising vision combined with a practical concrete plan that we can engage with; our response to the heating of our planet is a case in point. We know that short term organisational and social change is most effectively achieved when there is an urgent and visceral threat; our response to floods or missing children show us how these can punch through our ‘business as usual’ response.

We are all being tested in new ways and on multiple dimensions. How do we respond to the social, financial, personal and economic pressures we are experiencing today, and that might unfold tomorrow?

We know that organisational and social change is often hampered by complacency, everyday pressures and critically, the lack of a galvanising vision combined with a practical concrete plan that we can engage with; our response to the heating of our planet is a case in point. We know that short term organisational and social change is most effectively achieved when there is an urgent and visceral threat; our response to floods or missing children show us how these can punch through our ‘business as usual’ response.

The public health crisis, Covid-19, has clearly created just such an urgent and visceral threat. Our immediate challenge as organisations has shifted from being about how we reinvent the cultural experiences we deliver to make them ever more relevant and engaging for our communities in the 21st Century, to how we survive for the next 6 months, stay connected with our communities and audiences and support our staff and colleagues through this challenging time.

While long term issues have to battle with complacency to get our attention, immediate issues challenge our composure – making it difficult to make good decisions when we are under so much pressure to make quick ones. We don’t have the luxury to be slow at times like this, but we also need to consult our wisdom and experience, to involve multiple perspectives and to build consensus.

How do we act quickly, respond authentically, enable action while also being nuanced and drawing on our wisdom? We have identified some insights that we share here with all humility.

Combine clarity with iteration

  • At moments of extreme uncertainty, people crave clarity. As leaders we need to offer definite steps and clear guidance. But when circumstances are changing so fast, and when we might not have had time to explore the question from every viewpoint, let’s aim for “fast and flex” not “fast and fix.” Let’s issue clear guidance, but with an indication that it will be updated on a regular basis, that we are continuing to be in dialogue with a range of people and we expect it to iterate. And let’s tell people how they’ll hear the next iteration and how they can make their own voice heard.

Process Vision

  • We all want a clear vision of the future. As leaders we can sometimes give that, but more often we will enable it to emerge. Let’s share a “process vision” rather than “destination visions” with our teams at this time. A process vision gives a clear journey about how we will shape our plans and future together, what the steps and options might be and how we will reach decisions. It tells people how we will arrive at a destination vision, but doesn’t define it now. Process visions are great in times of uncertainty, since they give clarity of process without fixing our final destination.

Organisational culture and values

  • We need to trust our true culture and values – how we do things in this organisation – what our authentic approach should be. Let’s draw on our values at difficult times, they give us a routemap through complexity. When we stand in our values our next steps often become clear. During a crisis it is often tempting to ditch our shared values and issue an edict. But our values are only truly useful when they are under pressure… Let’s make sure our culture shapes our times, not our times shape our culture.

Collective insight

  • Even when we are under pressure the diversity of perspectives in our organisations is crucial, and so let’s make time to hear the wisdom, experience and intuition that exists across our organisation. We’ll make better decisions with multiple viewpoints, and the decisions will be owned and implemented with greater clarity if the fingerprints of the whole team can be felt on our response.

Connect with our Audiences and Communities

  • Many of our organisations have missions that involve creating transformational experiences for individuals and communities. If we stand in that mission, what responses, interventions or actions suggest themselves? Of course our audiences are not only footfall, bums on seats or income sources… and we know that they are stressed, have needs and that their cultural organisation might be a positive force for them. Let’s stand in our missions and be inspired by our higher intentions as well as by the tyranny of our survival.

Kubler Ross and Transitions

  • We know that as humans we respond to change in predictable and understandable ways. The Kubler Ross curve eloquently captures the ways we feel as negative change unfolds in front of us – with immobilization, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and testing preceding acceptance and we also know that organisations and individuals experience a drop in productivity and clarity as we transition from one reality to another. Let’s remember that each of us has an inevitable set of human responses to change and uncertainty, and that these responses call for a patient and empathetic response.

Create opportunities for control

  • Most of us struggle when we feel control has been taken from us. Fast moving global, national, local, personal situations inevitably shift our sense of certainty and erode our sense of control. Let’s look for opportunities for everyone in our organisations and communities to exercise control – offer options, encourage the development of individual or team plans, explore alternatives and give choices wherever we can. While the circumstances might be beyond our control, our personal responses don’t need to be.

 

 

 

 

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