• Jim Seaman

Change Management Lessons Learned From COVID-19


Introduction

Okay, so the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most (there are a few exceptions) to adopt a new way of living.


Yesterday, during a walk in the countryside (my single piece of outdoor exercise for the day), I experienced at 1st hand various members of the public at various stages of change.


To reduce the spread of the virus most governments have enforced a lock-down, so as to reduce the potential for infected persons to leave traces of the infections on commonly touched interfaces and thus spread the virus between individuals.


Think of it as each infected person having a mild coating of invisible paint and when they touch any hard surfaces, this paint is transferred onto this surface, where it resides for upto 72 hours (e.g. Hard surfaces).


Now imagine, the same surface being touched by multiple infected people, their paint is all transferred onto the same surface - leading to an aggregation of paint (Viral Load).


Next, an unsuspecting healthy 'unpainted' individual comes along and touches that same surface - BOOM! The get a super strength dose of paint, which they then (before washing their hands) either:

  • Ingest by touching their face.

  • Transfer to another 'unpainted' individual, through the invasion of their 2 metre exclusion zones.

  • Transfer to another surface and so the chain continues.

Social distancing and Staying At Home, is the way to break this chain.

Reactions To Change

If this sounds so obvious, why are we seeing resistance to what appears to be a common sense instruction?

  • People being seen crammed into underground trains.

  • Close together in supermarket queues.

The reason for this is that people react differently, at different stages, to rules that change the way that they have become accustomed to and comfortable with.


In fact, this is clearly explained in the Change Curve model explains that there are 6 stages to change:

"The Change Curve model describes the six stages most people go through as they adjust to change. Stage 1 begins when a change is first introduced, where people's initial reaction may be shock or denial. This manifests by blaming others as they react to the challenge of the status quo".

Managing Change

Given the stages seen in the 'Change Curve' it is understandable that we are seeing members of society at different stages of this curve.


For example.

  • Members of the health service or military will have extensive experience of Immediate Action (IA) drills and will be more likely to jump straight to stage 4, and rapidly through to stage 6.

Note.

Even members of the military are not immune to being reluctant to accepting change.

E.g.

At Camp Basra, Iraq, despite there being a high-risk of death from a mortar attack, some were still reluctant to embrace having to sleep in their hardened sleeping facilities:


However, this will not be the case for the majority of the population and we need to be mindful that they may be slower to get they. Many people will spend a great deal of time stuck in the earlier stages, even feeling uncomfortable at maintaining a 2 metre exclusion zone and being hyper-vigilant to wash (decontaminate) their hands after having touched a potentially contaminated surface and before touching their faces.


Consequently, to help people understand the need for change, we need to help them negotiate their way through the stages of the 'Change Curve'. This has never been more important than in times of crisis, where the impact could result in the widespread loss of life.


Business leaders and senior management can significantly help people by becoming a 'Change Management Champion' to help get this message across and to help their employees better understand the need for embracing this change.


A suggested model for enhancing Change Management is the Prosci ADKAR model:

Application To Business Protective Security

The same lessons can be widely seen through time immemorial and in everyday in the application of business protective security.


Much like we have observed with the COVID-19 crisis, the introduction of new policies, instructions or new secure ways of working will not be immediately accepted by all your employees and some will be more reluctant to embrace these changes than others.


In the protective security world this has a term for this:

'Setting the Tone At The Top!'

Conclusion

Change is something that is inevitable but the success or failure of the introduction of such changes need to be cascaded down from the top and embraced through each tier below.


This is what we urgently need to see happen now, to help the governments and health services to get on top of the current crisis situation, and to help them save the lives of others.


Consequently, at the top of the hierarchical tree is the Government officials which has broadcast a need for change and this has been supported and embraced by the health service personnel.


However, this cascade still needs the support of business leaders and senior management to ensure that they are broadcasting a consistent message that if everyone is being asked to STAY AT HOME or to respect SOCIAL DISTANCING that business leaders and senior management are re-enforcing this message.


If you are further along the 'Change Curve' then help those struggling to get beyond the Uncertainty & Confusion of these challenging changes, be supportive, help them to understand what they need to do and set an example.



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