Embrace uncertainty – kiss the elephant

Working together - article on business change advice - www.titlesussex.co.uk

This year has brought huge change to businesses and many are having to remodel. But where to start? Carly Pepperell met the team at virtualPMO in Sussex to get some advice for reshaping your business.

If the elephant in the room was actually real thing and not just a saying, most offices and boardrooms in Sussex would probably resemble London Zoo at the peak of the tourist season.

Right now it probably feels like there’s a herd of elephants labelled “COVID”, “Brexit”, “Home Working”, “The Economy” – and God alone knows what else – trampling all over your business plans, eating the potted plants, knocking over the water cooler and demanding attention that frankly, you don’t have the time to give right now. If you have small (or grey) children, that’s probably an easy scene to imagine.

Well, I’ve got some good news. Firstly, elephants in your room aren’t actually real in Sussex, unless you are the owner of Drusilla’s Zoo. Secondly – and I accept that it’s cold comfort – is that we’ve always had big changes like this in the world, since the dawn of humanity. From the gunshot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked the horrors of the First World War, through to the impact of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the World Trade Centre on 9/11, people have always looked at each other and uttered those immortal words: “Well. Things will never be the same again.”

Humans are incredibly resilient.

We’re a buoyant species

But here’s the thing. Humans are incredibly resilient. We’re adaptive, creative and the product of 200,000 years of evolution, so we’ve collectively overcome greater challenges in the past, and, dare I say it, in the future too. No one could realistically fathom how the world would develop when the Cold War started, but here we are today, bathing in the warm glow of peace, rather than the guilty failure of Armageddon.

The bad news is that elephants, metaphorical or otherwise, do need care and attention before they start to cause real issues for you and your business. We at virtualPMO  recognise that. Every reader of this article is 100% a successful human in their own right. The reason you’ve managed to make a good fist of life so far is because you’ve known when to act, when to listen, and when to take advice.

Here at virtualPMO, we’ve helped dozens of firms ranging from global multinationals to local offices and noticed a few constants when it comes to dealing with changes.

Elephant in the room - article on business change advice - www.titlesussex.co.uk

Identify the consequences of change

Firstly, identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that come with any change. There’s an old (and incorrect) trope that the Chinese language uses the same word for “opportunity” as it does “crisis” – the “crisis” part is actually more akin to “change point”. Regardless, throwing your hands up when external factors appear on the horizon is not really an option. The appearance of COVID-19 is undoubtedly a threat and a weakness, but is there an opportunity to be realised in moving away from traditional office workspaces and realising savings from rents? Is there a strength in moving to a dispersed workforce you can access virtually? What opportunities does a customer base that will primarily look for your business online offer you?

Consider the intangible values such as morale and wellbeing.

Consider the values

Secondly, ruthlessly quantify those strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and assign a tangible value to them. Sure, your primary concern is money and business value, but also consider the intangible values such as morale and wellbeing. A change will throw up many options, but ultimately, is the juice worth the squeeze to act on them? Will you realise a saving from changing your staff’s desktop computers to tablets, or is it cheaper to simply move the desktop to a home location? But how does that sit with the legal risk in asking staff to work remotely while ensuring you meet your H&S obligations? What’s the contractual risk of moving suppliers post-Brexit, and are the penalties incurred by breaking a contract outweighed by the long-term savings made?

Acknowledge and prioritise

Next, you can prioritise those factors – those you must do (e.g. to meet legal obligations), those you should do (e.g. to meet your long-term strategy), those you could do (e.g. if remaining time and resources are sufficient) and finally, those you cannot do (e.g. because they are currently unaffordable). This will give your business a clear sense of when things may happen and in what order you’re going to manhandle the elephant back out of the room.

Then, once you’re clear on what needs to happen, you can prioritise your changes, allocate roles to manage that change element and start to communicate your vision for moving forward, reassuring your stakeholders that you’ve got this under control. Of course, no change is ever risk-free, so you have to understand and communicate where the risks are in this and how you’re going to mitigate those.

Never be afraid to seek advice.

Ask and accept

Lastly, never be afraid to seek advice. Like-minded colleagues and trusted friends can always offer a perspective, but be aware of the fact that their view could be limited to an internal perspective or unconsciously seek to compliment your thoughts rather than challenge them. Human nature is intrinsically designed to be sociable, so encourage respectful dissent and challenge – the future of your business depends on it!

Modern office space - article on business change advice - www.titlesussex.co.uk

Ultimately, if the elephant in the room simply seems too large to deal with, do consider some external advice. A good change consultancy completely acknowledges that businesses are excellent at what they do. That’s why you’re in business. And the reason you’re going to survive is because you’re going to take independent and unbiased advice about what to do.

How we can help

No matter what the largest issue you’re facing is, you’ll need to keep the lights on while a trusted partner, such as virtualPMO, will provide the capacity and headspace to assess the current situation. We can work out the most likely and most dangerous scenarios that could affect your business model and what mitigations can be realistically put in place to enable you to weather the approaching storm. We’re always alive to the possibility that actually, in every crisis there is opportunity to be realised or values to be gained that you might not see while you’re focussed on the day to day operation of your business.

So yes, change is coming. It always has done and it always will do, and the immediate future is yours for the taking. While you’re eminently successful in what you do, the success of what you do over the coming months is down to you. As you gaze upon a 6000kg African elephant munching on your favourite potted plant in your office, just ask yourself; “Is this a good time to take advice?”

About Carly Pepperell
Carly gets to do everything under the sun at TM including writing, editing, taking photos, creating stories, and swanning around at launches. She can down a glass of Prosecco without pausing for breath, and aims to be the youngest Pulitzer winner ever.