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Navigating Change: Leading Beyond Uncertainty (Part 1)

“We are simply not that good at leading change.” John Kotter author of International Best Seller Leading Change. Dr. Kotter offers a practical approach to leading, not managing, change. I would highly recommend our readers this book.

The COVID-19 crisis is creating the highest level of uncertainty in several years. Ambiguity about the continuing spread makes us fear for life at large. Anxiety about our livelihoods makes us cautious about spending. Under these concerns, business leaders find it futile to make reliable plans for investment. This is why leading change is critical for not only businesses but also leadership around the world.

Navigating Change : Lockdowns and Economies

Lockdowns cause unpredictability to remain high. Just how huge will depend on how long lockdown measures will be in place. Retail and hospitality sectors are on the verge of bankruptcy because they don’t know when customers will return and under what conditions. The EU’s services sector experienced the largest monthly drop in business expectations for the coming quarter with a 23 % point fall. While consumers continue to defer nonmandatory spending, as they are unsure when their lives will be back to some level of normality.

There is no guarantee that the lockdown will be completely lifted in June. Fewer blue-collar workers can work in a factory at the same time, while white-collar workers are bound to work from home. Manufacturers reshape capital-investment programs as they don’t know how much cash they will need on their balance sheets to survive the crisis. Banks are not extending credit, because they don’t know when their clients’ businesses will be back in operation.

Asia is leading the way in Navigating Change

According to McKinsey, Asian governments and businesses are adapting swiftly to play their part in fighting the pandemic. Gaining experience and learning more about what works and what doesn’t. Moreover, using technology to safeguard and redeploy labor. Freshippo, Alibaba’s grocery-delivery subsidiary, hiring workers from shuttered restaurants and retail outlets. The technology is also helpful for reskilling workers to meet large shifts in demand during the pandemic helping people remain on the job.

The necessity to be physically absent in offices is advancing the digitization of operations. As remote working is fast becoming the norm, the use of online communications, such as teleconferencing, is rising. At the end of January, Tencent Meeting made available the feature allowing online conferencing with up to 300 attendees at one time free of charge, to help fight the epidemic. During this period, a tremendous amount of organizations used it as a tool for telecommuting, while educational institutions handle their online remote teaching and training programs. As of March 20, the international version has become available online in over 100 countries and regions around the world.

The Science of Navigating Change

Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership. Phase one in a renewal process typically goes nowhere until enough real leaders are in senior-level jobs. Transformations often begin when an organization has a new head who is a good leader and who sees the need for a major change. 

Most successful change efforts begin when groups keenly observe situations, markets, trends along with finances. This first step is important because getting a metamorphosis started requires the cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere. Transformation is impossible unless hundreds or thousands of people are willing to help, often to the point of making short-term yield.

Leading change is therefore a critical factor in skills to navigate beyond 2020. Yet given the severity of the crisis, things have to get worse before they get better.

To be continued…

This blog is also on Medium