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Change management and the COVID crisis

As Australia’s economy begins re-opening after the COVID-19 shutdown, businesses are facing new challenges. Many drivers and companies are taking on new tasks and freight types, and many procedures and business rules have changed.

Managing these changes and protecting your team will be critical to your business success. Recently we spoke with Kelly McLuckie and Jenni Ross-Janett, NTI’s change and culture specialists, about how to make the return to work as safe, smooth and profitable as possible.

Bring your team with you

What is the most important task for a manger in times of rapid change? Engagement.

Staff engagement is critical because they’ll be on the frontlines, dealing with customers and solving problems on their own. If they’re engaged with the business, if they understand what the company is doing and why, then they’ll know they’re trusted and will become part of the solution. With a situation as fluid and potentially fast-changing as the current environment, that’s vital.

“You can insure for a truck rolling over, but you can’t insure for speed of change,” Jenni says. “The only way you can insure for speed of change is having engaged staff.”

Communication is the key. Trust your staff with information, treat them with respect and you can be confident they will represent themselves – and the business – professionally.

Critically, communication has to go both ways. It’s important to tell staff what’s changing and what’s expected of them, but it’s equally important to listen.

“Keep coming back to the big picture,” says Kelly. “Sometimes the ‘why?’ is ‘because the government said so’. But when you know what’s going on, you buy into it.”

Jenni concurs, noting that you want your team members to ‘bring their brains’ to the table.  “If I’m out there and I have to make a decision and I don’t know the ‘why?’, then I’ll make poor decisions and will become frustrated.”

The most critical parts of change management are information sharing and leadership involvement.  Make the ‘why’ message part of all your communications around any changes and keep your messages consistent.

Turn and face the changes

Kelly notes that operators must also update themselves on regulations and procedures. “Examples from a management perspective include the obvious ones about changes in legislation and border or travel restrictions, and changes and compliance requirements around contact tracing.”

Jenni’s advice is to be aware of changes to general procedures – not the big regulatory changes but the small, day-to-day movements and systems we take for granted.

“When drivers make a delivery, they get out of the truck, go into the facility and have a chat, get their documents signed,” she says. “Now they’re staying in their trucks, maybe signing electronically … the whole delivery/dispatch, drop-off/pickup routine changes.”

Other areas potentially requiring training or familiarisation with new equipment or procedures include:

  • Trucks and prime movers: Control, operation, performance, turning circles.
  • Trailers: Loading and unloading, swept path.
  • OH&S: Requirements for new tasks.
  • Site-specific procedures: Requirements for loading, unloading, safety, sign-off, etc.
  • Load restraint: Requirements and training for new load types.

 

You don’t need to be perfect

Kelly and Jenni’s final advice is to take care of yourself as well as your team. Accept that you’ll make mistakes – and that your team members will make mistakes – and don’t be stubborn. If a new procedure isn’t working, change it.

“The mistake many leaders make is believing that they must never make a mistake, let alone admit it, and that changing their mind is a sign of failure,” says Jenni. You’ll be making lots of decisions – some will be tough – but you must manage the risk, make the call and move on.

‘Analysis paralysis’ can be as big a problem as ‘shooting from the hip’, so strike a balance: gather information, consider your business position and goals, make a decision and be done.

That doesn’t mean being dogmatic – after all, being flexible and adjusting procedures and systems until they work the way you want them to is a sign of strength and confidence, not of weakness and indecision.  Don’t be afraid to fail. But ‘fail fast’, learn from your mistakes and move on.

“And make sure you look after yourself,” says Kelly. “Get help, talk to other business owners, your insurance company, your best mate.” There are plenty of information sources out there, including industry associations, government and brokers. Everyone’s in the same boat, which means no one has to weather the storm alone.

“It’s tough times, but you don’t have to face them alone.”