What has been enabled by the crisis?
If there's one good thing that's come out of the changes of the last few months, it's getting rid of bureaucracy, says Henry Stewart.
“Coronavirus has acted as an organisational laxative” is one comment that was made to me. And I think it is true. As one NHS Director told me, “we made changes in two weeks that would normally have taken three to five years”. Or as another colleague responded, “actually we made changes in two weeks that we could never have made even in five years.”
The COVID crisis has been a tragic period for many. However it has also been a challenging and exciting period, with rapid change made possible on a scale rarely seen before.
Many companies have found that everybody can work perfectly well at home and everything from GP clinics to face-to-face learning has gone online. I know one city firm where nobody was allowed to work at home before this March. “They will just skive”, argued the CEO. That same CEO now has no desire to return to the office and has discovered he can trust his people.
And that is the key.
Unable to micromanage and tell people what to do, organisations have found that giving people trust and freedom actually leads to better outcomes.
Victoria Camp, from Caerphilly Council, had to find a way to match 1,500 vulnerable people with 600 volunteers. “I didn’t get sign off. I didn’t write a report. We just delivered as a team, focused and swiftly. It was a dream!”
At Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospital (BHRUH) one young nurse told me how they had to move an entire pediatric ward in one day. And, without the need for endless approvals, they achieved it. Another talked of creating new maternity operating guidance in two days instead of the usual six months.
The BHRUH chief executive, Tony Chambers, talked of his role as being an executive assistant. Instead of making the key decisions, his job was to see what he could do to support the changes that were happening.
“The pendulum of leadership was switched to the front line staff”, explained people director David Amos. “And we want it to stay there. Instead of committees and hierarchy we have multi-disciplinary teams, moving swiftly in new and different ways, implementing change in real time.”
That picture has been mirrored across the country and, indeed, across the world. The question is whether the lessons have been learnt and whether organisations will continue to act in this way. The slogan at BHRUH is 'no going back'.
As one of the learners on our leadership course commented, "If the old 'management techniques' were out of date before Covid 19, they are now obsolete."
"I feel very lucky to be equipped with my learning in a new world where remote working means trust, self-engagement and ownership, an embedded understanding and buy-in to the organisations vision and goals and an understanding of our individual and collective strengths is more vital for us than ever.”
On the other hand I know of one organisation where, in contrast to the trust and freedom in the early days of the crisis, “I had to include four levels of management in a decision-making process, which had already been reviewed by every senior officer in the organisation”.
So which will be the new normal? Will companies return to the old ways of hierarchy and command and control, or will Covid have spelled the end of those approaches?
I live in hope for a new world where people are energised and motivated by being in control of the work they do, where they are trusted and given freedom, within clear guidelines, to decide how to achieve their results.
About the author
Henry Stewart is Chief Happiness Officer at Happy.