In general, we are all creatures of habit.We take comfort in knowing what to expect. Change is always difficult. How then, in this whiplash year of 2020, should organizations support change, when habits could be dangerous to our well-being and the only thing to expect is the unexpected? According to Prosci (a research-based change management consultancy), the definition of change management is the process, tools, and techniques to manage the people side of change. And as Human Resource (HR) professionals we are keenly aware that our people are our most critical business asset. For our company, which makes and exports liquified natural gas (LNG), we discovered that in the face of such big challenges – pandemics, hurricanes, social unrest – that going small by engaging with employees on the individual level and managing change through a small, nimble support team, yielded vital results in a tumultuous time.
For our organization, change was driven by that small group of individuals known as the Business Support Team (BST). This group is comprised of executive and SME representatives from HR, Communications, Facilities, Environmental, Legal, Operations, Meteorology, Supply Chain, Security, and IT and was responsible for scanning the COVID external landscape, understanding the internal business landscape, and then translating for the intent and purpose of engaging individual employees in the changes quickly and safely.
Change is inherent in our day-to-day work, not only in human resources but in all aspects of the business. However, many of the adjustments employees would have to make were not easy. Some of them had far-reaching impacts across our company’s processes, systems, structures, as well as individual roles and responsibilities. Pivoting quickly to make these adjustments is essential and is accomplished by helping individual employees make successful personal transitions, resulting in the awareness and ultimate adoption of the changes. And to be successful, achieve our business goals, and give agency back to employees during a dislocating time, we focused on empowering every employee at every step along the way of every change.
Finally, we followed our values to ground our employees and drive decisions and behaviors on what we could count on as a company, namely our corporate TRAINS values (LNG production units are called “trains”) of Teamwork, Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Nimble, and Safety.
Along the way, there were a number of core strategies that we deliberately employed to help our employees manage these changes successfully.
Robust Communications: We sought to provide the most accurate, consistent, transparent, timely, and purposeful communications possible. More specifically, for each change, we attempted to answer the questions: What is changing, why it is changing, how does it impact different areas of the business, and how does it affect individual employees. We employed a variety of vehicles to communicate and build awareness, ranging from direct emails, videos, townhalls with senior leadership, intranet articles, and key messages via managers and HR. Communications engaged our employees from their heads to their hearts. Some urgent communications required action by employees and provided explicit “why” information to engage a response. Alternatively, leaders were encouraged to be patient, to communicate via phone or virtually using video, and to seek to understand what each employee was experiencing.
Nimble, Go-Forward Plan: Embracing our “Nimble” value has never been so important; however, it was also paramount that asolid plan was developed quickly, knowing it would be adjusted along the way. In a world where so much was and still is beyond our control, it was important for us to narrow in on what we could influence and how we could mitigate risk to help calm the chaosinherent in this epidemic environment. This required us to proactively anticipate barriers and consider means to listen to employees and identify resistance in order to ensure adoption of our new plan and practices. Most urgent for our organization was the ability to maintain our commitments to our customers—to produce and deliver LNG as contracted—knowing our employees have a huge desire to stay mission-driven. As such, a plan was quickly landed in which essential workers at our site locations were provided onsite healthcare, lodging, food, and other necessities needed for them to safely report to work on a shift schedule.
Metrics and Incentives: Once a nimble, go-forward plan was firmed up, it was critical that metrics were in place to ensure success, including change metrics to determine how many employees were participating, how quickly, and how well change was adopted. Having that clarity galvanized our employees behind specific goals that were necessary to our business success, helped them remain focused and objective in a world where so much is unknown. And once those goals were achieved, we rewarded handsomely— even for the things that are expected, because within each accomplishment, new skills, strengths, technologies and capabilities were being born on both employee and organizational levels. News ways of working were stressful, and by measuring and rewarding adoption and adaptation, sustainability of the changes is much greater. One fine example was the pivot from virtual to work at site/office for essential workers requiring physical presence. During a pandemic, challenges for families and safety risks were pervasive—monetary rewards for employees taking these risks to ensure business continuity served well for both employees and their families to know how much their effort were appreciated.
Encourage Innovation and Problem Solving: Sometimes it’s the most urgent situations that inspire innovation and people tend to support what they help create. Because of the radical changes required in all aspects of business, work, and family, we invited our employees to be part of the solutions and provide feedback every step of the way. One example that still exists today is a small group of working mothers with children at home for school virtually--this ideaof a “sharing group” has resulted in expression of creative ideas for how to strike a balance between work/life, how to maintain one’s own health (mentally and physically), and for keeping children busy in a COVID environment. We have also realized the importanceof continually re-evaluating what is working and not- -mistakeshave and will be made as we struggle to make changes quickly and we acknowledge, learn, course-correct, and move on.
Change Champions: More than anything, COVID has taught us that change champions are the backbone to organizations in crisis. Resilient leadership, intertwined with empathy and optimism, served to generate an energy and inspiration that truly instilled even greater pride in our organization. As we delivered positive quarterly results and cargoes of LNG to customers as promised, our leaders were there to encourage, support, reassure, and reassert teamwork and collaboration in in the face of incomprehensible situation. Being active and visible, while role modeling and remaining committed to mission, vision and values, every step along the way were the driving behaviors of our BST leadership, made obvious to our employees via videos from our CEO and BST leads.
Perhaps more than any time in our careers in Human Resources, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed business, and possibly changed our lives forever. The pandemic came upon us quickly, with no real roadmap for switchbacks of change necessary to maintain business operations. In addition, the change needed to happen quickly, as business continuity and the lives of people were at stake. Our HR lens helped us recognized that COVID presented change opportunity at the core and through application of these tactics of communication, nimbleness, planning, rewarding, innovating, and championing, we have been able to respond, are recovering, and will ultimately thrive again.