Explainers

Choose to Change: Why Organizations Must Design for the Future, Now

COVID forced organizations to change and created new market conditions. But now, organizations must choose what changes to make and design work for the future.

This series explores why organizations struggle to change—and why, despite all the obstacles, change is possible if we do it together. Part I addresses why teams are so often skeptical, and how leaders play a critical role in proving change can happen. Part II analyzes the assumptions underlying many change models, and why they actually prevent change from happening. Part III introduces what we’ve learned from working with hundreds of teams, and how that’s influenced our approach to Organizational Changemaking.

Over the past 16 months, COVID forced organizations to change: it’s “easier” to go remote when the only other option is closing up shop. Teams rallied around the flag, while leaders had leeway to respond to rapidly changing conditions. But now that the initial crisis has passed, organizations have options. Do teams continue remote work indefinitely, or return to the office? Can—should?—teams maintain the harmony they established during the pandemic? How must leaders adapt now that there’s greater ambiguity and subjectivity? And how can organizations address the increased burnout that resulted from a stressful, overworked year?

As leaders start to sift through these questions, they must also keep an eye on some of the fundamental changes that are occurring within the economy:

  • Power is shifting to workers. A variety of factors, from concentrated demand to lingering COVID restrictions, is creating short-term labor shortages and allowing employees to be more demanding. In the long term, the broader trend of declining birth rates means the labor pool is shrinking—a major shift that managers who “came of age in an era of abundant workers” will be forced to adapt to.
  • Technology is forcing organizations to reconsider how jobs are performed. Thanks to the widespread availability and ease of digital and communication tools, remote teams weren’t just able to scrape by, they increased productivity by 5%. Meanwhile, other organizations—manufacturers in particular—are increasingly relying on automation in order to manage their labor shortage.
  • Organizations are being asked to solve bigger problems. Consumers believe that businesses are the only institutions that are both competent and ethical enough to effect change, and increasingly expect them to take a stand regarding social and environmental issues.

This is the time to think strategically about work, and design your organization for the future—not just in response to COVID. After so many months of change happening to teams, it’s a unique opportunity to reclaim your agency, and decide what changes you want to make. By applying the right approach to your biggest challenges and rallying others, change really is possible, together.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explained why so many people are skeptical that change is possible, including some of the key assumptions underlying change models that actually prevent change from taking place. We’ve also shared how our experience working with hundreds of teams in different contexts led to us creating a new approach to organizational changemaking. Ultimately, while this approach creates lasting systemic change within organizations, it always starts with a few individuals—ambitious and empathetic leaders who believe that a different way of working is possible; who want to create cultures that allow people to do their best work. Some of the most pressing issues we’re addressing with them right now include:

  • How do we redesign strategic planning for a more complex world?
  • How can we design hybrid work that doesn’t produce wildly divergent employee experiences?
  • How can we re-balance the responsibilities for establishing work-life balance?
  • How we can deploy talent development systems that act as a competitive advantage?

When future historians look back, 2020 may very well be considered a pivotal year in the world of work; a clear dividing line between old and new ways of operating organizations. The adaptations teams made in order to survive revealed that many of the fears organizations had about change were simply unfounded. If teams take nothing else with them from the trials and tribulations of the past year, we hope it’s the knowledge that change is possible—and that now, as we move into an uncertain future, they have the skills, and the opportunity, to choose what changes to make.

Realistically, of course, this transformation won’t happen overnight, as teams are only starting to figure out optimal working conditions. But the sooner you start, the greater your competitive advantage.

Get in touch if you want to kickstart change within your organization.

Published July 11, 2021