26 March 2021

Managing change while we change how we manage

Mary Mitchell takes a look at strategies for coping in a new world of work

I will be no news to you that we have all been managing change over the last 12 months!

A little over two years ago I applied for a role with Scotland Excel. This was to lead a major change management programme, a commission we had recently received.  Little did I know then how much change we were all about to experience. 

I started the role in June 2019, with a two-year programme plan all mapped out for delivery.  The first 9 months went pretty much as I expected. We interviewed key stakeholders, got project work established and started to gather momentum.  We then set about describing options for the changes which would bring about our programme deliverables.

I had all the key milestones and methods mapped out, and then all of a sudden it was March 2020. Covid 19 had come to town.  Overnight we were working from home with a huge group of stakeholders across several client organisations.  Everything had to be re-thought and the delivery model revised.  More change!

It was also clear that crisis management in our client organisations moved the focus to a different type of change.  The change we were engaged to deliver was separate from these priorities.  So, we moved online, we changed the skills mix in our team, we took on more of the practical work to support each of the projects.

We changed.  We changed our approach so that we could still deliver.  It was an extreme example but it underlined the truth that we all have to work with uncertainty.

I found that the ways of keeping in touch were different but still pretty effective.

Bringing together a group of stakeholders no longer required the same considerations.  Gone were the challenges of finding appropriately sized rooms, with parking available.  No need to send directions and arrange to meet and greet at reception. Large groups of stakeholders could come together, literally at the click of a button.  Issue a link and all the usual logistical issues are resolved.

In this environment, we have had informal discussion sessions, formal meetings, and group work on complex problems. As well as lots of information sharing.  It has worked well.  Change is possible and can be successfully managed even in turbulent times.

But it takes a lot of energy to work differently, with people with whom you have never had an in-person relationship and in unfamiliar territory (cyberspace!).

It takes energy but it is also very energising to be able to overcome some of the barriers often associated with geography and time.  Everything about how we meet with people is quicker and somehow more convenient.  There is time released by not travelling, by not moving around buildings or chatting while making coffee.

We have all stepped up, absorbed a lot of change and continued to work towards more improvement.

The takeaways from the last 12 months have been that emergent change can speed up planned change (think digital transformation!), if:

We can change how we manage,

Teams work differently together,

We manage how we view the expected change, reshaping it to suit a more virtual workplace.

It’s challenging, but no one ever got into change management for an easy life.  The so-called corona coaster ride is open for those of us who like to get our thrills from the everchanging working environment.  

Even as we can see the current roller coaster ride coming to the end of its tunnel we are looking forward to the next bumpy ride.  Public sector procurement is a great world to be in as we embark on a journey of economic recovery. 

It is an exciting time to be part of the Scottish public sector. Lots of change coming our way; through the response to the pandemic, the shocks to markets through Brexit and local policy development such as the recommendations for adult social care in Scotland. 

Come and join us in the queue, we will get the best experience if we are all in the front carriage together!  Check out The Opinion series for more info on how we are responding to the ever-changing world of public procurement.

Mary Mitchell is a Strategic Programme Manager at Scotland Excel