Embracing change when stability is desired

Unprecedented. Challenging. Uncertain. Weird.

We’ve all used these adjectives when describing our lives during this global pandemic, even here at Softway. But what I’ve also heard is a fascination—borderline obsession, with the word normal. People are waiting for things to “get back to normal.” Businesses adopting a “new normal.” The reality? Normalization isn’t coming for some time. In light of that truth, Softway’s management team has a different outlook.

We are looking to tomorrow—literally. Instead of planning and forecasting months and years ahead, our strategy is to plan, prepare, and pivot two weeks at a time. And amid an epidemic and a furlough, it was crucial to get our entire team up to speed on how we would achieve this.

A plan to not plan too far in the future. To stay liquid. And not get too mired in “the way things were.”

Using the limited data we have

It’s been just four months (four!) since the severity of COVID-19 spiked and forced the world to abandon the way we shopped, visited with one another, and worked. Since then, social and economic trends continue to fluctuate day-to-day, with no stabilization on the horizon.

Because of this, my team of directors and I quickly understood that we cannot afford to create strategies for an unlikely future. When everything we know could change tomorrow—social practice ordinances, economic downturn, virus surges—we needed to have flexibility in the way we collaborate, deliver, measure results, iterate, and pivot.

Agile, agile, agile

At the beginning of 2020, my leaders had just completed a rigorous Agile methodology training in hopes to slowly integrate it into our business operations. Just a few months after that, furlough became a reality for Softway, with sixty percent of our US staff being affected. During this period, my leadership team sat down and critically evaluated our operations.

When initiating any sort of change, speed is always essential. It’s a harsh business reality that the length of time a company has to reconfigure processes and strategy is dictated by the amount of financial runway the company has.

Discussions on how we would bring back our furloughed staff quickly segued into a decision to do a hard left turn with our organizational strategy. With a smaller team that firmly understood the Agile business we were aiming for, we established a new operating procedure, focusing on agility, results, and outcomes.

It was important to me to have a strategy that allowed Softway to diversify our service offerings and clientele. This Agile methodology helps us to effectively use our time, dollars, investment, resources, and talent in a way that focuses on those specific outcomes. It also allows us to scale up and encourage cross-collaboration in our teams—something we had to account for before bringing back the full Softway team.

Losing control to see results

For Softway’s leaders, this new strategy requires tackling mental blocks—specifically the biases and opinions on the way things should be done. While it sometimes worked for us in the past, it’s too narrow and top-down focused to succeed with our current needs.

Now, the focus on cross-collaboration will mean everyone has a chance to be heard, they have the freedom to experiment, and they are empowered to reconfigure a solution. This comes from everyone being aligned on the goal—we’ll let the data tell us if a particular method succeeded or not. But what we’re currently working on is saying “yes” more. A simple “no” from leadership could unintentionally hamper the culture of experimentation that we’re excited for—and that’s something I’m trying to prevent.

A re-onboard to get on board

Furlough was tough. The employee insights we gained about the furlough were brutal, but invaluable. They have helped me to understand and grow in the way Softway brings humanity back to the workplace. While there’s no “perfect” way to furlough, I am proud of the way we handled a few aspects—specifically when it came to re-onboarding our team and bringing them up to speed with the changes.

As we decided upon our Agile operating strategy, we had to account for the fact that change is often met with resistance. Complete remote working. New operating principles. New teams—new everything. This was a lot of change even for all of my leaders who stayed on—and we didn’t want our employees coming back to immediately shut down. This led us to apply an Agile mindset to our management of change approach.

Remote working, not working from home

The limited data we have for business trends during a pandemic continues to point to a largely remote workplace for many companies—through the end of 2020 and into next year. Not only as a health and safety precaution, but as part of a business’ benefits package for the future. To be honest, this challenged a lot of my own thinking.

While working from home was already a part of life at Softway, COVID-19 mandates impacted our teams, pushing us to quickly adhere to India’s lockdown enforcement and Houston’s health guidelines. With over 100 global employees unable to travel to the office, I found myself fighting the thought that productivity would come to a halt. I had to take a step back and give remote working a chance to succeed.

Not only did it help improve morale, but it allows my leaders more time for intense, focused thought. Time for more strategic planning. The ability to think through a solution with fewer, constant distractions.

The time and energy spent running from back-to-back meetings has diminished, our calendars are managed, and meetings that *could* be an email—are actually just emails now. This uninterrupted concentration and efficiency help us plan our path forward and anticipate what’s to come.

If there’s one thing I know for certain...

I know that Softway cannot go back to the way it was. With economic and social trends still changing so rapidly, it’s in our best interest to stay flexible and be ready to pivot at any time. This flexibility hinges on trust—trusting the Agile methodology foundation we have built, trusting my management team that will help ensure its success, trusting that working remotely will yield productivity. This new strategy is a delicate house of cards, and it will require faith in my employees and my unconditional “yes.”

What was considered “normal” for Softway has shifted, evolved. And as we continue to adapt, I know we cannot be planted so firmly in anything except the reality that things will change again. So, I’m getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. I’m looking forward. And I’m excited to embrace abnormal.

Reference article: Choosing Strategies for Change | Harvard Business Review