Has COVID brought changes to your workplace? Are you entering a new phase as employees transition from telework back to the office? Are you experiencing a COVID-induced change in the market? How is your organization responding?
Change can be tough. Sometimes we resist change. Sometimes we don’t see the need for it. I’d like to share the story of how one company – Kodak – chose to navigate change, and what we can learn from their experience.
A (Pivotal) Kodak Moment
Kodak, which was formed in 1888 as the Eastman Kodak Company, revolutionized the photography industry. Its innovative cameras, film, paper, and technology dominated the market for over a century, with 90% of the film market share in 1976 and $16 billion in revenue in the 1990s. For many years, Kodak was a household name. Everyone knew what a “Kodak moment” meant.
But in the years that followed, digital photography surged, and Kodak took a nosedive, ultimately filing for bankruptcy in 2012. The company reemerged in 2013, a scaled-back version of its former self, and today reports an annual revenue of approximately $1 billion.
How did such an industry giant fall so rapidly and decisively?
The answer is simple. Kodak failed to fully embrace change.
Let’s look back to 1975. That year, an electrical engineer at Kodak, Steve Sasson, invented the digital camera. Sasson took his discovery to Kodak leadership. They weren’t excited. They were threatened. Their message was to keep the invention under wraps so that film sales wouldn’t suffer. They did receive a patent for the digital camera three years later, and they dabbled in the digital market. But they were so wed to the film-based business model that they failed to fully embrace the new model before them.
Digital photography wasn’t the undoing of Kodak. Resistance to change was the undoing of Kodak.
The Only Constant is Change
Eighteen months into the COVID pandemic, many organizations are adapting to a new business model. For many, the new model incorporates increased telework. Many are moving to 100% or partial telework. Others are bringing employees back into the office full time. There are many flavors to the COVID business model. But change is the common thread.
Regardless of how change is perceived, change is hard on organizations and employees, even when it's welcome. Here are five key points to keep in mind as you transition your organization and employees to the next phase of work life after (or during) COVID.
1) Evaluate the existing systems
The new work setting may require realigning the organization's existing environment, strategy, structure, and processes. For example, does the physical workplace need to be modified to accommodate more mobile workstations and the need for daily videoconferencing? Does the hierarchical structure need to change to respond more rapidly to both in-office and home office employees? Do business models need to change to respond to customer needs on a virtual platform? It is important to look at these changes at the broad organizational level, group level, and individual level.
It's a common pitfall to rush to solutions without enough diagnosis, to misdiagnose the scope of the change, and to set unrealistic timeframes. Start with an assessment of the existing environment to determine what truly needs changing.
2) Prepare for change
A thorough analysis will help the organization evaluate the impending change, prepare for it, and adapt to it. Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model describes the process by which organizations must first unfreeze, or get unstuck, then move forward in implementing change, and then refreeze, or make the change stick. Five key questions will help this process:
- Why should we change?
- What should we change?
- How should we lead the change?
- Who should change?
- How should we sustain and support the change?
The organization should look for ways to leverage the change with the least amount of force and the greatest yield.
3) Communicate the change
Vision statements are important for providing context and for conveying a future that draws people in and excites them. It is important for leadership to make the change compelling, powerful, and motivating. Use the communication plan to both introduce certainty and reduce uncertainty. What benefits does this change have for individual employees? For the organization as a whole? Appeal to both emotions and logic. Recognize individual differences in those who thrive on autonomy or routine v. close supervision or spontaneity. Employees should be given enough time and information to process the change on both a rational and emotional level.
It is also important for the communications to be delivered in multiple modes (e-mail, webinar, live meetings, etc.) using an organizational vocabulary that supports both the culture and the change. Use language carefully, not to manipulate, but to clearly communicate and to align organizational values with the message being delivered.
4) Explore resistance to change
People don't resist change so much as they resist loss. It’s important for managers to attempt to understand the fears and hesitancies underlying the resistance rather than forcing change in a more authoritarian manner. It is also important to draw out the resistance as an opportunity to gain insights rather than pushing hard to overcome it.
If the change involves a transition back to the office, employees may fear the loss of work-life balance and may experience anxiety over how to juggle responsibilities. These are all very real concerns. Ask employees to share openly, and handle their feedback with care. You do not have to make any promises in order to help an employee feel heard and valued.
If the organization at large, or a particular department or team, is resisting the change, consider whether your organization is being held hostage to the past. The longer a firm is successful, the more vulnerable it becomes. Such companies are often stuck preserving and protecting what they’ve done in the past, as opposed to embracing reinvention. Artful leaders help reduce resistance at any level by building a communication plan that helps overcome uncertainty, and by cultivating a culture that embraces change at every level.
5) Champion the change
Leaders must model and reinforce the organizational culture and the need to change. Leadership’s openness to change will have a great influence on how others in the organization respond to the change. Celebrate the change at all phases. Change is an inevitable part of growth and an opportunity for greater success.
Leaders must also show a willingness to embrace and plan for uncertainty. The truth is, the world and the business landscape are constantly evolving. One change leads to another and another. Some can be predicted, others cannot. Good leaders set an example for both anticipating change and reacting to it as necessary.
When leadership and employees work together to embrace change, extraordinary results can occur. I bet Kodak would give anything to turn back the clock and embrace change rather than stiff-arming it. We can all learn a lesson from Kodak.