Albert Einstein famously said “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”  It’s no secret that the current COVID environment has caused every company, and hopefully every individual, to adapt or change to some extent.  Likely at the beginning this was reactive – take whatever steps necessary to ensure you, your team, your company and your family are healthy and able to be productive in this new working setup we have.  But now, a few months in, let’s shift the dialogue towards making proactive change – using our “forced” change as the catalyst for continuing to choose change.  Let’s embrace the agile continuous improvement mindset and practices that will ultimately create a better work environment for all.

As an agelist at heart and in practice, my approach has always been anchored by the question “Why Not Change?”  Sometimes this has been met with many reasons why change isn’t possible, it’s too hard, the return isn’t there, etc..  But recently, change was not an option; every company had to exhibit some business agility, flexibility and creativity, while also heightening your focus on your people.  We will all be better for it.  So, seize this opportunity to continue to embrace change now and for the foreseeable future – lean in, and realize your company and your team’s true potential through your new agility.  Here are some ways to keep going:  

Take the pulse of your team – now and often

Your people are your biggest assets and what sets great companies apart.  So, why not ask them what they think?  This applies to people at all levels of your company, including your leadership team.  Ask them about the changes you have put in place since COVID-19 changed our workplace.  Ask them what they want to see more or less of, or for alternatives.  As leaders, many times we think we know what is best, and simply move out on decisions.  In this heightened environment where we might have had to implement things faster than normal, don’t just assume that what you have done is fine and should be the direction, tool, or process moving forward.  Seeking opinions or asking for your team’s help in solving problems will more often than not help create better, stickier solutions that generate higher returns.  Employees are motivated by seeing their feedback turned into action.  You can do this in numerous ways – online surveys, all hands/team meetings, company emails, slack or other communication tools, etc.  Just don’t over-engineer – the value is in the feedback.

Adopt continuous improvement principles and practices

Continuous improvement is a key tenant of a lean agile mindset.  Agile delivery teams have specific ceremonies and practices dedicated to it for a reason.  Companies should also plan time to “inspect and adapt”, and show the commitment to growth.  You need to give your people space to propose innovations, and the safety to “fail” with the intent of growth.  You can start by:   

  • Building a “backlog” of ideas and needs – even encourage everyone to contribute.  Start to think about other areas that you want to more permanently “update” or outcomes you want to achieve as 2021 approaches.  Prioritize them based upon factors that are most applicable for you, such as: business value, impact, employee “votes”, cost or potential savings, etc.  
  • Planning and budgeting the prioritized changes.  
  • Communicating the cool improvements you are making – make it part of your culture.
  • Evaluating whether the learning approaches at your company are facilitating this growth mindset for your team.  Now as much as ever our team may be asked to upskill or do more/different in their jobs.  Make sure you are promoting and enabling this continuous learning moving forward.
Hold less meetings

WHAT?! How is that possible?  Try instead to communicate and decide more via email, messaging apps, or just the old school one on one phone call.  For too long, many companies have clung to the old way of every major discussion or decision occurring in meetings.  However, that is most often NOT the most efficient way to accomplish your goals.  For years I have been a proponent of the “daily stand-up” concept and eliminating “status meetings.”  Especially with this now more virtual world, leaders should take this opportunity to evaluate your current meeting and communication structures, and ask yourself a few hard questions:

  • Is the meeting generating meaningful outcomes?  Could we accomplish our goals without it?
  • Is everyone actively participating in the meetings we have?  Does everyone really need to be there?
  • Do people come to meetings prepared?  
  • If the meeting is necessary, can it be a working session instead?
  • If I had that time back, could I accomplish more meaningful work?

Taking stock of your answers will help you adjust your meeting culture.  Use our enhanced comfort with digital tools to ditch the meeting for meeting’s sake.  Identify and use the structures that allow everyone to most efficiently accomplish the goals.  Your team will thank you, and likely produce more!

Trust and Enable More

For most companies, this has naturally had to happen to some extent over the past few months as we have all been virtual.  It is likely one of the single best by-products of this COVID environment.  As leaders, you should do everything in your power to promote that enhanced level of trust between teams to “just get things done.”  Consider whether you have the structure in place to support empowering your team to make decisions and execute in real-time.  If not, consider and change what is preventing that.  Let people and teams “co-create” what works best for them.  Agile teams sometimes call this creating “team norms” – no one knows better than the team itself how it can operate at its peak.  You will be amazed at how far trust and enablement go.  Your teams and your company will see the benefits through increased engagement, increased efficiency, and sustained, quality output.

Conclusion

This is your company’s opportunity to truly embrace change and agility in your organization.  Make change “safe” in your company’s culture.  Be people focused more than ever, and let them help you and your company come out of this better than you started.