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Paving the way forward for organizational transformations

‘There’s a lot to celebrate when you consider that many organizations are responding’

May 5, 2020 — 

One way organizations can deal with change brought on by the COVID outbreak is to give employees a sense of competence, belonging and autonomy in the workplace, says an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business. 

Lukas Neville, an award-winning teacher and instructor in BComm, MBA and Executive Education programs, says firms who are able to make fast, smooth transformations are places where people have a balance between being empowered and supported. 

 “We know from the OB (organizational behaviour) research that when people have those needs met they perform better, they adapt better, they do better in terms of psychological wellbeing,” Neville says. “These are challenging and stressful times for people.” 

Helping people feel competent is more difficult in turbulent times, but it’s critical, he says. 

I think about that all the time when I’m sitting on Zoom and I’ve muted myself by accident or I’m trying to share a file and it’s not working and here’s my competence need not being met,” Neville says, chuckling. 

“We have all these new tools and very little training on them and we just go live. It’s going to make people feel bewildered and that they’re bad at their jobs. Part of that is just to normalize it,” Neville says. “We have to have those discussions.” 

Holding a Zoom cocktail hour to stay connected may sound like it’s all for fun, but Neville says a lack of relatedness has serious implications for organizations. 

“Work is about work, but work is also about being part of something,” he says. “It’s belonging or connection. Day to day, are we a part of a team, are we a part of a group? Do we have bonds and connections with others in our workplace? When we’re all stuck at home, that’s hard to maintain.” 

Neville says middle managers also need to give employees the power to do the right thing. They need to have a level of autonomy. 

“That’s why micro-management chaffs so much because it tells us our judgment isn’t trusted. We don’t have the right instincts. We don’t have the right knowledge. Part of the thing is how do you create that supported, empowered kind of environment?” 

 Neville says this is the kind of management that will help organizations through a crisis, or at any time in the lifespan of a business. 

But he cautions a firms struggles or failures are not necessarily evidence of poor management.  

“All the great behaviours and structures and policies, procedures; all of the best efforts if you’re in hospitality or tourism or some other sector that’s really hard hit, that’s not going to save you. But there are places where I see lots that is really impressive, nimble,” says Neville. “They are really quickly adapting.” 

Neville points to local firms who have adapted quickly: Winnipeg’s Price Industries is helping create safe environments for patients temporarily housed  outside of hospital settings in the U.S. and elsewhere, such as in hotels. Their fan units convert almost any space to a negative pressure isolation room by drawing air and airborne viruses safely outside through a filter.

Canada Goose is now selling scrubs and gowns. He says the coffee shop, Little Sister, stays connected to its customers by delivering whole coffee beans to your home.  

There’s a lot to celebrate when you consider that many organizations are responding, “with real flexibility, Neville says. 

“In a lot of ways, I think the more a firm’s employees were already empowered to improvise and adapt, and they were supported in these ways beforehand, probably the better position they are in today to weather this crisis. But it’s never too late to start.” 

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