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Driving organizational and behavior changes during a pandemic

The influence model should be considered an enduring staple of an organization’s change management approach.
Brooke Weddle

Leads our OrgSolutions portfolio of assets and capabilities globally, helping executives drive transformational change and boost organizational effectiveness across industries and regions

In our previous post, we provided an overview of what companies are doing during the COVID pandemic to stabilize or even improve their organizational health. But one question remains: what can be done to drive these kinds of organization-wide behavior changes during a time of unprecedented change and a shift to remote working?

A proven way to achieve mindset and behavior shifts is the “influence model,” a research-based interplay of the four quadrants: understanding and conviction, reinforcement mechanisms, confidence and skill-building, and role modeling. Utilizing interventions across all four quadrants helps create an environment in which employees are likely to change how they think and behave, inspiring people to be fully committed to change.

We have helped clients utilize the influence model across countless transformation programs in order to adopt real change. Programs that employed all four quadrants of the model were 3.6 times more successful compared to those who employed none across various contexts. We feel confident in assuming that the importance of each quadrant is even greater in times of world-wide turmoil.

As a real-life example, we can look at what interventions companies have been putting in place to encourage three sets of behaviors: doing things differently, protecting the core, and motivating through meaning, across the influence model.

Doing things differently, using the situation as an opportunity and innovating frequently, while looking outside:

  1. Understanding & conviction: A global retailer began producing protective masks, gloves, and gowns to publicly support efforts to fight the pandemic and solidify the understanding of the company’s mission statement to transform shopping and improve lives.
  2. Reinforcement with formal mechanisms: Many companies have pivoted to weekly Q&A sessions with all employees in order to source new ideas and create accountability around their response.
  3. Confidence & skill-building: A global telco redeployed 1,000 store employees to inside sales and retrained them in three weeks.
  4. Role modeling: Two large media companies completed a merger, conducting the first “virtual handshake” in this context.

Protecting the core and instilling speed through anticipation, quick codification of knowledge, and clear roles and responsibilities:

  1. Understanding & conviction: A CEO of resort chain emphasized the importance of thinking of wages not as an expense, but as an asset to build the company.
  2. Reinforcement with formal mechanisms: An Asia-based supermarket chain regularly published updated versions of guidelines to counter virus transmission, among over 100,000 staff there have been zero infections so far.
  3. Confidence & skill-building: A major industrials factory ran at over 90% capacity with only ~40% of the typical workforce after adapting and codifying processes rigorously.
  4. Role modeling: Leaders of many companies have installed weekly (or even twice weekly) updates from their ‘Control Tower’ teams with leaders’ role modeling focus on protecting core operations and effective decision making.

Motivation through meaning and inspiration:

  1. Understanding & conviction: A multinational consumer goods company encouraged workers focused on producing cleaning supplies to think of themselves as “heroic” frontline soldiers saving others.
  2. Reinforcement with formal mechanisms: A hospitality company partnered with companies expanding workforce to connect displaced team members with new temp opportunities.
  3. Confidence & skill-building: One of top 10 Fortune 500 company donated $10 million to expand online learning and close skill gaps.
  4. Role modeling: A multinational automaker’s top executives deferred between 20-50% of salaries, while promising to continue to provide health insurance to employees who elected to take sabbaticals.

As we move into a stage of reimagining culture in light of COVID-19, the influence model can be a powerful and practical framework to ensure leaders are driving change holistically. The power of framework lies in driving change across all four quadrants, consistently. While the need to do things differently, protect the core, and motivate through meaning are the focus of leading companies now, the influence model should be considered an enduring staple of your organization’s change management approach.

The authors would like to thank Randy Lim, Kim Rubenstein, Gunnar Schrah, and Krzysztof Siuda for their meaningful contributions to this research and blog post.

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