How should companies embrace change?

Some believe that a sudden change or disruption is not the best way because it’s more enforced and not thought through. Others debate that change is subject to external elements and organisations need to act swiftly. A report on what works best.

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Changes in life can either be gradual, or happen overnight. The outcome is usually the result of the choices that you make in life. In terms of the present situation, the two biggest changes — lockdown and work from home — happened almost overnight and have now become the new normal. Although the latter has been under consideration as an option for some time now, it got implemented, only because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Sunil Singh

“COVID has changed a lot of things. Earlier, I wanted my employees to undertake virtual training, but the suggestion was not embraced then. The acceptance was very slow. But now, the same thing is being accepted easily. So, for situations like this we have to think fast and be ahead of time.” 

Very often, decisions taken in the heat of the moment or without dwelling much over them, weigh more heavy in terms of consequences. However, sometimes, while moving towards something better, we either try to jump to solutions or keep our calm and take the time to find that idea, which is just right and fulfils the need of the hour.

Similarly, even in organisations, the best way forward is either to make sweeping changes or embrace a gradual, improvisational approach to change.

This is the time when organisations are leaving no stone unturned to adapt to the new normal and focus on new changes that will decide whether their boat will sail or sink.

Irfan Shaikh

“If an organisation plans to let go of a talented pool of people, then their replacement will entail a huge cost. When COVID settles down and everything returns to normal, replacing these people will be tough.”

HRKatha spoke to a few industry leaders and found out how they think the changes in the organisations should take place.

Jayant Kumar, joint president, HR, Adani Group believes, “Whether a change is gradual or disruptive within an organisation, is completely dependent on external factors. If the environment demands rapid change, for instance, the current situation that we are in, we will have to make some disruptive changes at a faster pace.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee

“Organisations need to take tough decisions. You start with low-hanging fruits and then move to the ones at the top. That is the only way it will work.”

But, Kumar continues, “When the environment demands a faster change and we are on the track towards slow and steady change, then we may just miss the bus.”

Interestingly, for Kumar, changes in the work culture and deep-rooted competencies, are for a long-term purpose. “Then we will just have to work for a longer period of time, to be able to reach there,” he adds.

Rajkamal Vempati, head HR, Axis Bank holds a different opinion.

As the workplace has undergone tremendous changes, Vempati says, “One thing has been very clear that there is no better teacher than constraint. All of us are adapting to new practices, habits and rituals to manage work. Here, the decisions have to be taken in a disruptive manner.”

She explains, “When you are managing a crisis, you have to make sure that you are on the top. There is no ‘One size fits all’ perspective today. It will be incorrect to say that gradual decisions are better than fast decisions. When you talk too much about it, you amplify change in the long run but underestimate the drastic change that has happened in the short term.”

Unlike Vempati, some in the industry believe that changes have to take place in a measured manner. The larger goal and objective have to be in place. Changes need to be brought about in a non-threatening manner, and this involves a lot of communication.

Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, CHRO, Magic Bus Foundation states, “A gradual change has a process in place, and organisations need to follow that process before implementing those changes. Change involves people, and different people react in a different manner. So, these changes allow organisations to take everybody along with them.”

Rajkamal Vempati

“One thing has been very clear that there is no better teacher than constraint. All of us are adapting to new practices, habits and rituals to manage work. Here, the decisions have to be taken in a disruptive manner.”

“Organisations need to take tough decisions. You start with low-hanging fruits and then move to the ones at the top. That is the only way it will work”, the CHRO, adds.

In crises like these, organisations may face a situation, where laying off employees or sending them on leave without pay is considered the quickest option possible. But, it is time, organisations move beyond such silly decisions and make arrangements for better planning.

Irfan Shaikh, group head-HR, Liberty Group, says, “Any plan initiated by the organisation has to have a gradual approach because the decision that you take today will cost you in the long term.”

“When organisations decide to layoff employees, replacing them should also be a considered option. To be precise, if an organisation plans to let go of a talented pool of people, then their replacement will entail a huge cost later, because when COVID settles down and things returns to normal, replacing these people will be tough,” Shaikh adds.

The problem is not the inability to take action but the inability to take ‘appropriate’ action. The pandemic has forced organisations to make hasty decisions at the snap of a finger.

On one hand, certain businesses are not doing well, and on the other, some — under the essential category — are flourishing during the pandemic.

Jayant Kumar

“When the environment demands a faster change and we are on the track towards slow and steady change, then we may just miss the bus.”

 

Shaikh points out that drastic decisions can lead to many consequences, which may not be the right ones. Organisations can get into legal complications. Leaders have to realise that any quick decision taken in the heat of the moment can have harmful repercussion for the organisation tomorrow.

Mukherjee, on the other hand, clarifies that tough decisions are not always taken in a hasty manner.

Citing the example of the airline business, he says, “Right now, the airline business is badly hit by the pandemic and there have been a number of layoffs, which all of us saw coming. Now, these decisions need to be communicated clearly to the employees. They have to be made to understand gradually.”

For instance, ever since the lockdown was announced, Indigo Airlines had held on and stayed strong as an organisation through these difficult times. However, finally, the low-cost airline decided to lay off some of its employees.

While Kumar believes that disruptive changes are not for the long term, he also adds that in order to survive in the long term, we have to survive in the short term.

“If my short-term need is so crucial that it demands a faster change, then being agile is the best option. Agility is not just about speed, but it is speed coupled with the ability to change the direction fast. And that can happen only if organisations are running the ability to change fast, depending upon the external and internal organic factors,” he explains.

One interesting aspect that Kumar points out is that, right now, we cannot be fragile or else organisations will be disintegrated.

Many of us believe that in normal circumstances, when things are good, gradual changes are expected to happen, but they are not meant to happen in situations like the pandemic.

Sunil Singh, CHRO, Cadila, believes that the changes that are happening right now were probably due for the last 10 years. “People are now talking about the nature of work and digitalisation, but the acceptance has been very casual and slow.”

Singh believes that this is a very typical approach that happens in a normal circumstance.

Sharing his personal experience, Singh says, “COVID has changed a lot of things. Earlier, I wanted my employees to undertake virtual training, but the suggestion was not embraced then. The acceptance was very slow. But now, the same thing is being accepted easily. So, for situations like these, we have to think fast and move ahead of time.”

It is true that all the technological changes that are happening today, have existed around us for the past decade. Zoom calls and Microsoft teams were not founded yesterday. Along with companies that were accepting them slowly, there were other companies who were ahead of the curve in terms of adaption to the new technologies.

Singh rightly adds, “Gradual changes may not work out in today’s time because when you get comfortable working in a certain manner, you become acquainted with it. Today, it is impossible to have 100 per cent attendance in the workplace anymore. It is going to be an environment where people have to change.”