Project Management Institute

Three Simple Ways To Drive COVID-inspired Change

man sitting at a table in front of a large widow with the sun shining through

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

18 June 2020

COVID-19 is creating massive challenges but also opportunities to effect substantive change. Here are three ways you can use the crisis to lead positive change.

At PMI, we see firsthand that macro trends and disruptive events are accelerating the pace of change and increasing the number and type of projects in the world. We believe our vision to “empower people to make ideas a reality” means helping to support “change makers”—the people who drive positive change rather than just react to it. 

We now look toward the prospect of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, a disruptive event whose impact will reverberate through society and our economies for years to come. If it’s true that we should “never let a good crisis go to waste,” this is one of those opportunities not just to survive, but to raise our game and DRIVE change. Here are a few ways you can make things happen, all while sharpening your skills.

Drive a deeper discussion around the “new workplace normal”

Find and ask the right, sometimes the extreme, questions, like "What if there were no offices?"

In the coming months, businesses will be asking the question, “Can we let more people work from home?” Inevitably, most will take an incremental approach, working backward from what they remember as being “normal.” A recent Gallup poll found that almost 60 percent of Americans working from home would prefer to work remotely “as much as possible” after restrictions are lifted, with 40 percent saying they preferred to return to the workplace. 

One way to get to the right answer is to look at the problem from the opposite perspective— asking the question, “What if there were no office?” Backing off that question incrementally is likely to yield a very different answer and help you figure out what amount of office space is absolutely needed. You still may end up with a hybrid solution, but asking the question from that angle will likely lead to a better answer, which you can then use to help drive the right change. 

Pulling from your project management toolkit, the classic five whys technique could be pretty powerful in this situation—helping you assess whether you’re asking the right questions throughout the process. Whether your team or organization is making a major decision about office space, organizational structure or some other business issue, you can expand everyone’s thinking by making sure they’re solving the right problem.

Envision yourself as the person who uncovers the key challenge and brings people together to resolve it. How indispensable would you be?

Figure Out “What’s Changed” For Your Customer

One of the beautiful things about taking a customer-centric approach to projects is that you pick up on changing customer needs. You’re effectively asking, “What’s the ‘new normal’ for our customers?”           

Helping others understand your customers more deeply will drive better decision-making and turbocharge your influence.

One of the newest trends in this area is tracking Customer Performance Indicators (CPIs). These are things that your customer, through their words and actions, are asking for as a part of their journey. CPIs are usually fairly simple and tangible—for example, reducing the time it takes to transact business or specific factors that influence satisfaction. In a recent HBR article, Accenture’s Gene Cornfield actually recommends tracking CPIs rather than traditional KPIs. Even if your organization doesn’t yet track CPIs, it’s important to understand your customer’s interactions with you along their journey, including both expectations and frustrations.

If you don’t know where to start, customer journey mapping is a good way to view customer touchpoints and think through what’s new and different. The journey mapping exercise will help you think through “what is” (personas, interactions, mental models), what’s changed, what matters and how to tell the story from a customer perspective. A deeper understanding of these factors will make you more influential and your work more impactful.

Picture yourself as the person who understands the customer better than anyone in your organization. How might that help you lead change?

Combat disconnectedness with collaborative leadership

We believe that collaborative leadership is especially important in today’s world. It helps you get to the right answer and work more effectively, with the team engaging more deeply, trusting each other more and owning the work on a whole different level. If you’re able to create this kind of joyful working environment, it’s a real game changer. Today, it can literally be a lifesaver.

Caring deeply about the work will not only make your team more effective. It will help them feel far less disconnected.

In one of our recent Pulse of the Profession® surveys, collaborative leadership was cited as the top skill for building effective teams. We often refer to it as a “power skill.” We all know that this style of leadership involves a move away from top-down command-and-control, but think about it more deeply in the context of what people are going through right now. How might you help people engage in a way that makes them more than faces on a screen? How do you make it easier to collaborate, reach out and work together? 

Here are a few thought-starters:

  • Breaking down siloes is hard. To do so, think about your team’s “raison d'etre” (reason for being). How can you use that “mission” as a way to rally team members when experiencing a rough patch?
  • Dig deep to understand how what each person is doing aligns with team goals and their personal goals. Ask them to identify the lowest value work they’re doing right now. What would happen if they stopped that work today? Could they work more reasonable hours?
  • Own mistakes that you might not have owned before. Be open and vulnerable in a way that invites your team to jump in and problem-solve. (Forget about looking good. Just be good.)
  • Think about a person who surprised you recently with their insight or ability. How can you nurture and strengthen that skill? If you looked a little harder, could you find that spark in others?

All of the above takes effort. No one hands you influence. You have to step up and earn it. 

But the good news is that stepping up will differentiate you from the crowd, and today that’s pretty important. I hope that some respectable number of you will read this and be inspired to learn something new, to lead in a new way and to help the world come back stronger and better than ever.