By Dr Mathew Donald (pictured), a sessional lecturer in Charles Sturt University’s School of Management and Marketing and a leadership, management and organisational change specialist
For centuries businesses have operated based on written processes and formalised structures and governance. Disruption has emerged in the form of globalisation, where change is almost constant, and has been derived from the higher trade inter-connectivity, new technology, the internet and social media.
While these disruptions have been broadly characterised as unpredictable, uncertain and risky, in the last few months disruption has never been more obvious than through the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. Borders have closed with little notice, there’s been mass global unemployment, cessation of travel and staff working from home. It is likely that working with different technology and remotely from home will be the new norm for many, where a sense of team will not naturally form without new managerial flair and skills.
Whilst the pandemic’s initial phase may soon end, the variability of restrictive social policies are likely to continue into the future. This post-pandemic information will arrive at speed, and may lack the detail traditionally expected by managers, whose prosperity, and perhaps even survival, may require them to be comfortable with risk and complexity, and being able to make decisions based on less-than-perfect sets of data.
Research indicates more than one factor is required for successful organisational change, so managers will need broad change tools if they are to build trust and engagement, and produce inclusive cultures.
It is likely the old management control structures, procedures and governance will be ineffective in the post-pandemic environment. Organisations were previously controlled based on assumptions of relative stability and predictability, where targets were set, outlined, explained, and worked towards. In the wake of COVID-19 it is unlikely managers will have all the answers, and staff and other stakeholders may lose confidence if they see changes in direction and decisions without context and explanation. To counteract this, managers will need to be more open in the way decisions are made.
Trust is at the heart of how managers attract stakeholder and staff compliance and contributions. If communication is purely instructions and directions, staff will likely stop listening, or even rebel if they are not included and engaged. So there will need to be a clearly explained link from the COVID-19-related legislation to the actions of management.
Now is the time for managers to rethink their skills, reduce the power and control paradigms of the past, and try to foster more flexible and adaptive organisations. The working-from-home phenomenon is not likely to disappear in the post-pandemic environment, so new ways of managing teams remotely will be required.
Recent research suggests organisational change may improve if games are included. This may prove difficult when staff are working remotely, but it will also improve morale and reduce isolation. Some organisations are already trying out synchronised coffee breaks online, some are trialling ‘trivial pursuit’ on relevant business topics, and others are using funny personal profile photos in Skype sessions and Zoom meetings. Managers simply need to be creative and flexible if they are to create a team with good morale during and after the pandemic.
Whilst emails are a business norm, they may not be the best way to deliver information, especially in the post-pandemic age. A number of research findings indicate staff may listen and digest information more from their colleagues than their leaders, so managers will benefit if they encourage remote teams to interact more informally, using social technology breaks and peer discussions.
Communication is a key organisational change factor in recent research, so its effectiveness will be challenged with social isolation. Management may also find it difficult to get their messages across if they cannot easily see their audience’s reactions or gather their attention. The old-style formal group presentations may be ineffective for this new age due to home distractions like children, partners and animals. Managers will need to consider how they make their information appear more entertaining and inspiring, worth listening to, rather than expecting the undivided attention of their staff.
The post-COVID-19 business world will be one of great uncertainty and stress, so managers of the future will certainly need to build teams and cultures that are flexible, inclusive and creative. To achieve this, the manager of the future will need to have heightened communication, technology, team building and even entertaining skills.