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Sage-Gavin: What change management looks like in the new ’Roaring ’20s’

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Eva Sage-Gavin
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at [email protected].

With vaccines starting to roll out–and, along with that, the promise of soon being able to resume gatherings with friends and family–it’s becoming somewhat easier to be optimistic about the future.

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Taking a long-term view, there’s reason to feel the coming decade is going to be a game-changer. According to one Yale epidemiologist, once we overcome COVID-19, we can look forward to a sustained economic boom: a new “Roaring ’20s.” Pent-up demand means people will seek out social interactions relentlessly and spend money along the way. Pragmatically, hard work still lies ahead in protecting businesses and the workforce, but leaders now have an eye on renewal and the opportunities before them. As leaders plan their next moves, one thing is clear: Change management will be core to success.

Nothing will remain the same

People have changed. Our priorities have shifted, and brand purpose is more important to us. According to an Accenture study, 47% of consumers now expect brands to translate their values and promises into new and innovative products and services. Successful leaders will be clear on why their company exists and how it contributes to social, economic and environmental progress. They will build new “contracts” with customers, workers and communities based on what’s essential to these different stakeholders.

Businesses are changing. The pandemic has accelerated new ways of working. This includes remote working and the increased use of digital channels to serve socially distanced customers, but it also covers increased automation and virtualization in factory settings and warehouses. According to one study, 73% of U.K. business leaders believe that COVID-19 will drive a new wave of automation. The global market for industrial robotics is predicted to rise from $45 billion in 2020 to $73 billion in 2025.

Technology innovation is being unleashed, and human ingenuity elevated. Companies that successfully pivoted and innovated throughout the pandemic did so because their people responded with creativity and passion and–armed with technology enablers–achieved great things. The same will be true in the new “Roaring ’20s,” and leaders will be looking at how best they can combine their people’s creativity with new, empowering technology.

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All of this requires change at the transformational level. And today’s successful business leaders are coming up with bold new approaches to managing change that are exciting to watch.

Innovation comes to change management

Here’s one example. I recently attended a virtual gathering hosted by Unreasonable Group, a company that backs entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in some of the world’s biggest challenges.

The session convened a diverse group of leaders focused on creating and enabling change for a multi-national home-furnishing group. In essence, it was a two-hour “sprint” workshop that drew on bold thinking to help reconsider innovation that drives positive impact socially, environmentally and financially.

What an extraordinary approach! By bringing senior leaders, cross-industry experts and mentors together to lean into the considerable challenges and opportunities facing individual businesses in the years ahead, Unreasonable has provided a template for change management that I believe could lead to explosive innovation.

Another great example is a pilot currently underway between Walmart and Unilever as a part of the World Economic Forum’s Preparing for the Future of Work Industry Accelerators. The partnership is a first-of-its-kind collaboration to build reskilling and redeployment pathways for the consumer industry.

The pilot is based on realizing that no one company can fully manage the scope of workforce transformation required and identifies new skilling pathways to prepare people for new job opportunities. The hope is to have the pilot scale to ensure workers are productive and employable as the labor market transforms around them.

This is no small feat. The two companies are considering some tough questions through the pilot, including which new roles are required in the future. They are also looking at which roles are diminishing, mapping the skills associated with these tasks and then thinking about how these skills need to be adapted to meet future needs. This extraordinary work shows incredible leadership–not just in tackling significant issues but also in the program’s collaborative nature.

Drivers of prosperity

The key takeaways from Unreasonable’s work and the partnership between Unilever and Walmart are that change management requires creativity, innovation and the will to take on significant challenges. As the recovery gets underway and we head into what we all hope will be a period of sustained economic prosperity, leaders who are looking at these areas today will be best placed to secure growth for their businesses in the future.

These leaders will create the conditions required for their people to thrive no matter what comes at them, to move with resilience and confidence into a new future. They will also be able to transform their businesses into purpose-driven organizations where respect, compassion and responsibility are embedded in everything they do.

They will, in short, make the new ” ’20s” roar.

Eva Sage-Gavin is a former CHRO with more than three decades of experience in Fortune 500 corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent and organization consulting practice and as a technology board director. Send questions or comments to [email protected].

See more columns from Eva Sage-Gavin HERE.