One can read everywhere that the COVID has been the best change agent, that it has succeeded in a few weeks where managers, Chief Digital Officers, change professionals have constantly failed: transforming the business, its organization, its practices, promoting the adoption of new tools. Even if I’m playing the killjoy, I think that we have no proof of this and that if we have to recognize some “positive” aspects of COVID, they are not the ones we think.
COVID caused reaction, not change
Yes, businesses had to go faster than they thought on some subjects, or even go on subjects where they didn’t intend to go at all, employees finally learned by themselves how to use tools that we couldn’t make them use (or use well) for years, yes, we would have never imagined to go so far and so fast on remote work, retailers of all sizes converted if not to e-commerce at least to click and collect.
So COVID is the best change I wouldn’t go that far.
Change is voluntary and is only achieved when the novelty is permanently anchored. Neither of the two conditions is met.
None of what happened during COVID was a voluntary, a business-driven move. Yes, businesses have decided to switch to remote work, but is this a choice? Not at all. It is simply a reaction to an external constraint. When you go in a direction you didn’t intend to go, because it’s imposed from outside, not only is it not a decision because it’s not part of a business project, but it’s experienced as an aggression that generates from day one the idea of a return to normal as soon as it’s possible.
This idea of going back to normal was present from day one, whereas in a real change process in business you know, in theory, that you will go all the way. The question is not to discuss the point of arrival, just to know if it will be easy or painful. In the case of the COVID changes, making the exceptional measures the new normal was never in the minds, at least not of the managers and leaders. Perhaps in the minds of those who found some form of satisfaction in it, who were advocating for remote work, but certainly not in the minds of the vast majority, and certainly not in the minds of management.
The changes linked to COVIDs are therefore not voluntary for the business, but rather forced. But, in addition, they are not sustainable.
No sooner had some of the signals turned green again than a number of businesses, including some emblematic ones such as Google and Apple, blew the whistle. For most of the businesses, the question of the right to remote work is now raised and apart from the most progressive ones, which are those that were already well advanced on the subject before the pandemic, they will surely concede 2 days per week of remote work. A simple HR benefit that will avoid questioning the work organization. This is totally unsuitable for a system that is only effective within the context of a business continuity plan if it is mastered and therefore practiced by everyone on a regular basis. For reasons of ease, many people will always prefer to reduce the distance than to rethink work.
How many small merchants will maintain their click-and-collect business? Hardly any.
Will the usage rate of Teams, Zoom and others stay this high? I’m willing to bet it won’t. And we’ll go back to bad habits in terms of collaboration as soon as we meet again in the open space.
Did the digital transformation of SMEs accelerate during the crisis? No. There have been tactical measures but nothing really strategic or cultural.
The crisis has shown the essential role of HR in helping employees keep their heads above the water? The future of the business will be built without them.
COVID will spark the discussions that will lead to real change
Don’t put words in my mouth: yes, things will change compared to “before”, but nothing is certain. The practices and changes have not been sufficiently anchored, especially since they were far from being desired by all. There are things that employers will want to keep, others not, in the same way that there are things that employees will want to keep and businesses will not. And often it won’t be the same. But for now, nothing that was put in place during the pandemic is by definition guaranteed to stay in place.
COVID was not an agent of change. It has only provoked a shock that will allow discussions from which real change projects will emerge. Provided that these discussions take place, that they are constructive and that decisions resulting from them are the translation of a vision of the business and not the conclusion of a negotiation of carpetbaggers on benefits and counterparts.
But if it has not been the agent of change without expectation, COVID has been of great help, if we are lucid enough to admit it.
COVID Consulting: A free diagnosis for everyone!
Businesses love to use consulting firms to identify what’s wrong with them and how to improve things. But let’s face it, it’s expensive and biased: they usually pay to have the conclusions they want to read, justify the projects they want to carry out, and the final version of the audits and recommendations that are given to them have been carefully redacted from the subjects that make them angry.
The COVID and in particular the forced and generalized remote work have highlighted everything that was not working in the office. All the practices used in the office to compensate for the shortcomings of the organization, the tools, the processes, the people and the managers could no longer be used, and the problems that already existed but that were being ignored were exposed.
The COVID was a full-scale crash test of the limits of our organizations. All that remains to be done is to list the findings and provide solutions, but we cannot say that we did not see what was wrong. In this way, it has carried out the largest large-scale consulting mission that has ever been conducted. Thank you COVID Consulting!
Do we have a managerial model and posture problem? A collaboration problem? An engagement problem? We don’t know how to organize meetings? All this existed in the office, we knew it, we didn’t dare to take all the necessary measures to remedy it and the move to distance put all this under such stress that the truth came out in the open and we could no longer hide the dust under the carpet!
Back to normal or learning from experience?
Today, businesses are faced with a choice.
Either say that everything that went wrong during the pandemic was the fault of remote work, the pandemic, and rush to get things back to normal.
Or to say that they have in their hands and in front of their eyes an indisputable diagnosis based on a collective experience that nobody can deny and that it is time to act.
Some will say it’s finally time to clean up their act instead of going back to hiding the dust under the carpet. Others will try to convince themselves that it was the pandemic and not them that created the dust.
But I dare to believe that many, at the time of the assessment, will decide to see the lessons learned during the sequence we just lived as an opportunity to improve. The others will put their heads in the sand and have missed an opportunity.
The real issue for the post COVID business is not the return to normalcy, it is capitalizing on the lessons learned.