Written by Wong Mei Wai
The pandemic has become the largest force of change that we have seen for a long time. Across industries, it has accelerated digitalisation and/or led to organisational changes resulting in more efficient operations to cater to new consumer needs and journeys - most organisations are now in the reactionary or crisis change mode.
However, an undiscussed question is whether the Post COVID-19 “New Normal” is in fact just a start for a greater change that will be coming our way which will eventually lead to yet another “Newer Normal”? Hence, leaders are reflecting on how to balance the current reactionary change by resetting their anticipatory change strategies (which have already been turning into reality!).
Anticipatory change is anticipating the strategic need for change with foresight before it takes place so as to gain competitiveness.
Reactionary change is reacting to change that has already taken place. This is the most common form of change taking place at the moment.
Crisis Change is when crisis forces the organisation to deal with it or else die. In some cases, Crisis place is taking place due to an organisation failing to make anticipatory change ( whether it is culture, product development, financial management or digitalisation ) or the inability to react to change in time. (Black, 2014)
Here are my thoughts on the four fundamental areas that organisations should bear in mind when planning and implementing Change so they can proactively stay ahead of the Change Curve.
(1) Know your starting point of Change
Before embarking on any change, a clear, unbiased understanding of the current state of the industry, business and brand(s) is required. Whether this is done by an external objective party or the internal teams led by the CEO, it should be able to reveal an organisation’s strength, gaps, threats, opportunities in the changing consumer journeys and their behaviours, regulatory compliance requirements etc. This understanding would provide the context for a meaningful change trajectory.
For example, in an audit of both Singapore and Malaysia foreign worker accommodation industry revealed different tiers and types of foreign workers accommodation in the market - ranging from basic dormitories (barrack style), factory set-up dormitories, rented homes to the other extreme of quality being Purposed-Built Dormitories. Further insights revealed the differing experience that these variety of accommodations provide their corporate customers and residents. One extreme consists of communal kitchens, large number of workers in rooms whilst on the other extreme lies multi-facility purposed-built dormitories with en-suite kitchens in quality buildings that housed amenities (including services, facilities) and recreational programs. These had services like remittances, cash-points, mini-market, food-court, gym, food-outlets, in and out-door sporting facilities, organised activities, 24 hours security etc. The variations in types, ownership, age of property, locations and the extent of control and access of the dormitory owners to rooms (aside from common areas) etc. impacts the differences in the brand experience for the foreign workers.
Top left & Right, Bottom Left: Different types of Foreign Worker Accommodation in Singapore and Malaysia.
Bottom Left: Interviewing residents.
Therefore, knowing the starting point of Change and accepting it may at times require a progressive and open leadership team to accept what they may not have expected through confronting reality. Once this takes place the base-line of measurement before change can be set for the transformation.
(2) Be Clear on where you want to be and get everyone to embrace that vision
It is critical to have a clear alignment on the expected change outcome and articulate a vision of how it might look so as to set the organisation on the same page to move in one direction through change.
For instance, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Westlite Accommodation owned by Centurion Corporation Limited (listed on the mainboard of the Singapore Exchange and Hong Kong Exchange), already identified areas that they could strengthen their customer and consumer experience. Hence, they embarked on their anticipatory change journey to rejuvenate their brand vision and mission. These were then translated into clear brand pillars, and brand promises to their stakeholders that include injecting the “caring” spirit of the management and founders to bring happiness to Foreign Workers through providing a secure, warm and caring, comfortable and convenient living community – to be delivered with the best service quality to their customers and partners. This was embedded through workshops and exchanges with the workforce to communicate and motivate them towards the change.
Left: The New Westlite Accommodation Brand House.
Right: The CEO of Centurion Corporation Ltd. engaging on the new Vision & Mission of Westlite Accommodation.
The cohesion brought about by the message of the mission was evident during the pandemic when many staff made sacrifices by selflessly offering to help residents during the COVID-19 outbreak like through adopting new roles during the pandemic. It was evident that this was and still is a business with a “heart”.
(3) Getting there- Balancing Anticipatory Change with Reactionary or Crisis Change.
Currently, many organisations are in reactionary or crisis change mode which is the most costly type of change mode to be in compared to implementing anticipatory change plans ahead of time. While some may argue that reactionary change is not always bad and like to remain in this mode as it allows them a chance of waiting and watching to better react. If one is in a competitive market, they might eventually see their competitors racing by them. This is seldom the behavior of a innovative market leader or a successful global business.
So how do companies continually ensure they do not fall behind the Change curve with so many disruptive changes taking place? The recommended approach to Change is to be able to balance dealing with the reactionary and crisis change elements and to continually “reset” the anticipatory change strategy to ensure the areas that lead to sustainability are concurrently developed. In addition, aside from strategy, innovation and digitalisation, anticipatory change should also involve deeper areas like organistional culture, talent management, high performance coaching, training etc. which will embed more sustainable change.
Management, Operations, Brand and Human Resource Teams collaborating on Change across markets.
(4) Be resilient, Work Hard & Be Committed to Drive the Change through
Driving Change is never easy and is hard work that requires patience. Despite the many day-to-day reactionary change and operational tasks to take care of, success often comes when the leadership and operational teams walk together in a committed approach towards the same destination of change from the starting point. While it is harder to manage the anticipatory change as it is easier for people to resist this before a crisis takes place (e.g. due to complacency during good times) - this gets progressively easier when crisis hits and survival anxiety is activated. They realise one either change or be changed.
However, it is for the exact reason that the sooner the company get themselves ahead of the change curve, the greater the advantage they have over other slower changing competitors.
The challenge with anticipatory change is that typically the demand of the people to run these programs outweighs the supply of such people within the organisation. This is because most organisations are normally lean, and people are too busy and stuck in the operational mindset and mode to be able to embrace and build the strategic change improvements. Therefore, whilst effort is put into the proficiency curve, yet the increase may be relatively modest due to such barriers. If they are not able to manage the anxiety or resistance to change, this will slow down the process.
APAC Global Advisory’s purpose is to “Build Legacy through Change” with the vision of being the best Integrated Change Specialist, scaling branded businesses to new heights for the next generation. We are an innovative and trusted change catalyst that journey with organisations and their people to transform their businesses and take them to the next stage of growth through our unique and proprietary end-to-end approach. This approach marries conscious and unconscious change.
The writer, Wong Mei Wai, Founder, CEO & Chief Change Catalyst, APAC Global Advisory - https://apacglobaladvisory.com/ is the appointed Change Consultant for Westlite Accommodation- https://westlite.com.sg/.
*For the purpose of illustration, the pictures above are from APAC Global Advisory’s Brand Audit of the Foreign Worker Accommodation industry in Singapore and Malaysia commissioned by Westlite Accommodation in mid 2019 and from follow-up Change programs.