Over the last few weeks and months, I, like most of you I’m sure, have been watching the handling of the pandemic we are living through and wondering what, if anything, I would do differently? First and foremost, I asked myself this question as a layman, then as a mother, then a businesswoman and then finally and arguably most usefully, I removed all emotion from the situation and asked myself this question as a Change Manager.

I looked back to March and reviewed the fact that when the country went into lockdown on 23rd of that month, the Government were essentially throwing the UK a huge change curveball and with very little in the way of support or guidance, or even communication, expecting an entire country to be early adopters and adapt overnight to a seismic shift in the way not just lives, but livelihoods were operated. If I look at this from a Change Management perspective, it can be likened to a workplace transformation; an operational change that affects everyone in an organisation, such as a new HR Process or the deployment of an entirely new modern workplace for example. It’s my motto to put people at the heart of any change I am running, so that’s where I would always start. I’d look at the status quo, then the end goal and putting people at the centre of the plan, I would chart a course to get from A to B in a way that brings people along on the journey. I would want to keep the people this change affected engaged, supported and communicated with for the duration, not just for a snippet of time. I’d then want this workstream transferred to business as usual in a controlled way so that people did not feel abandoned. The daily briefings at the very start of lockdown were a brilliant example of effective engagement but the subsequent complete lack of communication in the summer following their abrupt finish completely eroded the effectiveness of all the subsequent communications, because when the regular briefings stopped, people saw that as a signal for the importance of the messaging.

Sometimes, a change approaches with little warning and the ability to perform an in-depth discovery up front is a scarce luxury. Even though this is the excuse I expect certain handlers of this crisis would use, I would argue with my ‘Change Hat’ on that there could have been a more rounded approach employed as opposed to what seems to have been used so far (i.e. throw the proverbial at the wall and see what sticks), which anyone in change knows to be the way to win no hearts or minds. Even though there are of course situations where change must be applied in this way, there are ways to cushion this blow. Namely, with communication, engagement and transparency around timelines and goals.

The longer I pondered this, the more I saw a juxtaposition between the handling of this pandemic and an IT change of old, i.e. one without Change Management applied. The failure to prepare despite fair warning, leading to the ‘just switch it on and hope for the best’ approach, which is spookily reminiscent of Eat Out to Help Out and then the sudden realisation of the impending doom this has caused, meaning a rushed rollback to the old ways of working, or in this case Lockdown 2.0. There is, generally speaking, only one result of change which occurs in this way; the change itself will usually fail, as 70% of change does according to research by McKinsey and company, and the people wind up with change fatigue. This results in them switching off to communications and attempts at engagement in the future because confidence in the messages being shared has been eroded due to non-delivery of the vision or goal.

I see many similarities in this to the situation we now find ourselves in in the UK. Mixed messaging, the absence of a clear direction, inconsistent information and the inability to win over hearts and minds with a common goal is the difficulty the Government will now face. A very effective strap line in the beginning was replaced with one which caused confusion, clapping for carers with your neighbours was turned into tell tales on your neighbours and ultimately it seems to me even the early adopters in this situation are fatigued. Having worked for Members of Parliament and as a Civil Servant in the past, I have a good understanding of the way things work in terms of process in Government, I do not envy the challenge faced by the Government in dealing with this unprecedented situation. I also do not believe anyone underestimates how difficult a position the Government are in.

There is no textbook to refer to when dealing with a global pandemic, however, change methodology could certainly be applied here and could make for a smoother navigation of this crisis.