When the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly disrupted almost every aspect of daily life, most life sciences leaders, like those in virtually every other industry,  focused their organizations on what was immediate and urgent – employee safety and business continuity.  And while easy to be distracted during the chaotic early weeks of the pandemic, life sciences leaders also had to ensure their companies and employees kept much needed medicines and therapies available and their supply chains viable. Additionally, many activated their organizations to work on a Covid vaccine, further straining limited resources.

Six-months later, many of the same challenges remain, but with the business environment and healthcare marketplace drastically and potentially permanently altered by the pandemic, refining longer-term strategy becomes paramount for organizations looking to thrive in a post-pandemic world. However, pandemic induced uncertainty has profoundly altered the strategic landscape, shortening planning and implementation timelines, and accelerating time to obsolescence.  Nevertheless, as the year closes and planning for 2021 and beyond begins, senior leaders will announce various strategic priorities and initiatives which will include:

  • Organizational restructuring
  • Enterprise-wide growth and/or cost-reduction initiatives
  • Leadership changes 
  • Accelerating digital transformation 

After change announcements occur, it is important to focus on strategic change execution and rapid implementation.  Among the most overlooked reasons for change initiative failure, and where time and resource investment return greater value and increase the chances of success, organizations can: 

  1. Better train and prepare leaders at all levels of the organization to execute change
  2. Provide more guidance to their leaders, teams, and employees on execution planning and implementation

And as a result of the pandemic, some of the best ways to address these failures require new approaches and new ways of working.

Best practices for strategic change execution require preparing leaders, at all levels, to effectively:

Clarify strategic direction and vision

Use multiple communication methods to ensure employees broadly understand what is new, what is different, and what is the same.  Failing to establish a compelling vision for change can result in a lack of buy-in and increase employee resistance.  With little or no face-to-face meetings taking place, organizational leadership should continue to host virtual town halls and regular team meetings to relay critical information.  Look to your communications department to develop creative messaging and leverage a variety of delivery methods to ensure the strategic direction and vision are communicated. Most importantly, include feedback loops and other real-time communication methods to involve employees, gather input, and build commitment and engagement.   Leaders at all levels must also help translate what the changes mean to their teams and areas of responsibility.

Reinforce the business case for change 

As always, explaining the “why” behind the change leads to faster buy-in and less resistance.  It is important to help employees understand how broader trends necessitate changes and how these changes will lead to greater competitive advantage, increased business, and more opportunities.  Each leader plays a role in creating clarity and enabling success by explaining the rationale, answering employee questions, and modeling personal commitment.

Identify and communicate business risks

Remember, every change initiative is different, and each has its own unique set of challenges or business risks that could derail, delay, or cause outright failure.  For example, a change may directly or indirectly impact customers, thus affecting revenue, market share, and other important performance metrics.  In other scenarios, the effects on production, process flow, information exchange, and countless other areas may elevate risk.  When implementing important new initiatives, leaders should focus on maintaining business continuity and avoid unnecessary distractions or disruptions.  Ensure that you and your team are focused on current goals and customer needs.  And remember, change may impact each individual differently.  Be sure to consider and monitor the risks associated with individual productivity, employee engagement, and overall talent retention. 

Define metrics/measures of success

As always, metrics matter. Establish and monitor critical success factors and performance indicators. At the team level, establish new goals which are clearly linked to these metrics, and determine where and how the team will contribute to these measures.  Also, ensure each team member clearly understands their role in achieving success.

Prepare leaders to successfully execute change

Large-scale change initiatives can falter without visible leader commitment.  Often, leaders are simply not equipped to be effective change champions.  Consider providing leaders with essential skill development and practical tools that guide their ability to prepare for and lead others through change.  This includes helping them:

  1. Make a personal commitment to the change 
  2. Think through the impact of the changes at their level and across their organization or team  
  3. Coach and guide teams and individuals through the change – an area where leaders typically need the most support

Focus on the impact of change at the individual level

As various changes are announced and implemented, there are always significant implications at the individual level.  Remember, initially individuals may react emotionally to organizational changes, similar to reactions to other life-changing events.  As a leader with direct reports, it is important to determine how the changes may impact team members and what individual support they need.  Coaching others through a transition, or transition coaching, is distinct from everyday managerial coaching on performance, capabilities, strengths, and development areas.  In transition coaching, the manager must also guide individuals to manage their personal reactions to the change and determine how to close any performance gaps resulting from the new strategic direction.  

As always, change is hard.  It is even harder with the additional uncertainty and disruption brought on by the pandemic.  These simple change implementation best practices are reminders for leaders to focus on those areas and factors they can control.  

Looking for other ways to improve your strategic change execution skills:

  1. Speak directly with Dr. Wendy Heckelman to discuss your organization’s change execution challenges.
  2. Check out Dr. Wendy Heckelman’s book Change and Thrive: A Modern Approach to Change Leadership
  3. Listen to our weekly podcast Change and Thrive with Dr. Wendy Heckelman
WLH Consulting & Learning Solutions

We are change, leadership, and L&D experts focused on companies in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry.

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