Skip to main content

COVID-19: embedding our learnings for change and HR - 12 months on

Over the past year we’ve shared the collective experience of navigating change management amidst rapid and large-scale global change. We’ve all experienced an intensive learning period, with shared and unique challenges. We’ve learned what works well and what really doesn’t. We’ve pioneered and integrated features of change management that will shape our approach for years to come.

Last year we wrote a blog to share how we thought change management would evolve in the face of the pandemic. Almost 12 months on, we’re back to share our lived experiences, learnings and observations*. We’re delighted to pay forward our insights around digital first, leader-led change and a more holistic approach to wellness.

Digital first has quickly emerged as a standard delivery format for our large ERP transformation programs. Gone are the days of classroom pilots, weeks of face-to-face workshops to design future state processes, morning/afternoon tea ‘show and tell’ sessions and physical genius bars. We’re now experienced in delivering digital alternatives for experiential engagement events, user acceptance testing, Train-the-Trainer, end user training and post go-live support. 

Our approach has become more flexible and inclusive. Our project teams are more geographically dispersed and connected in real time. Our audiences are increasingly familiar with the virtual shift and open to self-directed online activities available when and where they want to work.  So, what are some of the key moments and tools that enable the success of a Digital First approach?

Digital engagement during User Acceptance Testing (UAT): Whilst a critical moment for our technical teams, system testing is as much a change management exercise as it is about the technology. With business representatives involved ‘hands-on’ in the system for the first time, the experience needs to be a positive one from start to finish to help build confidence in the design, the project and the direction they have embarked on. Without effective communications, UAT can feel isolating, daunting and even thankless for those are who split across remote locations. From initial engagement when gathering nominations, on-boarding and upskilling testers, through to daily stand ups, check-ins and feedback focus groups; we’ve found that leveraging digital communication platforms such as Communic8, supported by an open ‘hotline’ with a virtual technical SME moderator available to troubleshoot tester queries, greatly enhances the user’s virtual testing experience.

Train-the-trainer: Thoughtfully designed virtual train-the-trainer sessions make an impact. Building in a combination of digital and interactive workbooks, different speakers to break up the day, sufficient break times and physical activities to both encourage movement and the building of internal networks is all the more important for effectively engaging and keeping the attention of participants, whilst also giving them the trainers themselves practical ways to engage their future audiences. 

Hypercare vs Selfcare: Traditionally business representatives are nominated to be additional support ‘on the ground’, often visible by a bright t-shirt or lanyard and tasked with proactively walking the floors asking if people needed help. Hypercare in a digital world has become very different. The Control Centre has become a virtual one, leveraging Yammer (or a similar online chat platform like Communic8, ChangeScout, FaceBook Workplace) both as a way for SMEs to connect as well as representatives to share key questions, issues and challenges. 

Digital First case study: A renewable energy company with headquarters in Melbourne were about to begin the testing phase of their HR transformation project when lockdown hit. It was the first project in a roadmap of ongoing digital improvements aimed at modernising their employee systems and processes, and the first time the broader business would get a glimpse at what the future of people management will look like. Understanding the importance of ‘first impressions’, they leveraged a suite of digital enablers that would provide a seamless, interactive and engaging virtual experience and maintain positive momentum around the move that was to come. Using Deloitte’s digital engagement platform – Communic8 – they were able to deliver a highly engaging, mobile-friendly communications strategy around the testing experience. Communic8 enabled easier access to instructions, delivery of digital test scripts that were easy to navigate and supported by video / digital imagery, and offered the project team a mechanism to track completion status, receive feedback and ensure they were always on track. The business representatives not only navigated the testing experience with ease, they had an engaging experience that built on their confidence in the project, which was all delivered virtually. The organisation has since realised a successful Go Live of their first phase, building a strong cohort of champions who are now engaged in phase 2. They continue to leverage the same digital enablers to engage, connect and manage their next phase.

  • Tips:
    Consider digital tools to enable more effective engagement strategies not only across traditional change management activities but also those such as User Acceptance Testing to help build confidence with remote audiences.
  • Think about how we can keep longer sessions such as Train-the-Trainer events engaging; whether it’s creating regular breaks throughout the call, running ice breaker activities, or building comradery in teams - ensure fun is part of the agenda!
  • Look for ways to ensure dialogue continues post go-live by utilising popular engagement platforms that nominated business representatives are familiar with and that SMEs can respond quickly to.

Employees expect more from their leaders than they did before. More empathy. More critical attention to work-life balance. More understanding and awareness of the demands of home life. Leaders are more alert to the mental health challenges of prolonged periods of working at home. So, what has the pandemic taught us about the qualities we need in our leaders?

Leadership development is crucial: We know that a leader’s ability to lead change is important. We’ve learned the importance of leaders nurturing and growing their skills both in supporting wellness and mental health within their teams as well as their technical skills in leading technology transformations. One of the key leader qualities we’ve seen is the ability to create mental clarity, that is to recognise stress triggers and implement mature strategies for reducing stress in order to function optimally. Those that excel is this area prioritise workload both for themselves and for the benefit of their teams, whilst regularly looking at the bigger picture to design methods that minimise the impact of change and reduce uncertainty. Utilising tools such as Deloitte’s Change Leadership Series®, can support this development in leaders to guide their team not only through complex business changes, but also to recognise and support mental health challenges during the pandemic. We’ve also learned the importance of complementing these skills with a leader’s ability to assess their specific capabilities to lead technology implementations. This includes factors such as having a sense of urgency, digital savviness, a technology mindset and a digital mindset. We’re currently engaged in developing an assessment that we can use to test these very qualities – so watch this space! 

Recognition goes a long way: It’s important that leaders make the point to celebrate key milestones and project wins. This includes giving change teams the airtime to share positive touchpoints with or feedback from the business, allowing the project team to connect their hard work to results and sentiment from their future user base. It’s also key to acknowledge the work of the change network and the role they play in a large ERP roll-out – whether it’s a branded lanyard, a handwritten note or a postcard – recognition goes a long way. We can replace physical interaction with other physical mementos too, sending a small token of thanks to workers who are at a factory site or steel mill or to even to office-based employees who are working from home.

Build team connections through creative play: Encourage teams to get creative! Virtual backgrounds are a great way to make our team’s experience more personal. By setting up a virtual background theme or template, team members can populate a background about themselves for introductions to the team. Question time and quizzes during team updates sessions are also fun icebreaker activities. 

Leadership case study: A national network of 30 health organisations were amid a shared digital data storage solution transformation when COVID-19 forced them to rapidly adjust their own teams into lockdown practice. They concurrently scaled a new service overnight to become the frontline distribution centres for all PPE as well as provide information and advice to every GP nationally. Leaders were suddenly confronted with the decision of whether to mothball the digital transformation in light of the health crisis. These leaders chose to press ahead, by building their change leadership capability using virtual delivery of a 360 Change Leadership capability assessment tool (LeadApt®) as well as targeted coaching and eLearning from the Change Leadership Series® to help improve their awareness and skills about leading in times of uncertainty. Using this tool, they were able to pinpoint their strengths with accuracy, leverage these to support their teams during the challenge and improve their awareness of their limitations, supplementing their skill set with additional support. These tools supported Leaders across 30 organisations to pivot their teams to focus on short-term objectives vital for pandemic response and inspire them to maintain momentum on the more strategic digital transformation.

  • Tips:
    Consider the use of digital tools such as LeadApt® to assess existing leadership capabilities to lead change digitally, and prioritise the development of these qualities through specialised leadership development programs, such as the specialised e-modules Change Leadership Series®
  • Ensure that key project and change-related milestones, as well as key contributions from team members and business representatives are shared and celebrated to maintain momentum and morale
  • Use creative ways to build team connections remotely, and rotate responsibility to lead activities between team members to give equal visibility and representation.

We’ve seen that organisations are becoming increasingly attuned to a more holistic view of wellness. The pandemic has given us a glimpse into the home lives of our colleagues and has challenged us all to be more deliberate about creating boundaries. We also know from survey data in the UK that there’s a worrying disconnect between how HR teams views the impact of COVID-19 on their workforce, with employees reporting much lower levels of wellbeing than business leaders. We have observed first-hand that organisations have been rallying around:

Addressing the gulfs in communication between HR teams and workers: HR now more than ever need to be connected to the workforce, and take practical steps to improve morale, wellbeing and productivity.

Showing vulnerability: In a virtual environment, we’ve seen the growing importance of deliberate efforts to be open and honest about both personal and professional struggles, and equally the specific recognition of others when they have stepped up to support. When leaders have demonstrated these behaviours, individuals are also encouraged to ask for help and share workload or challenges for group resolution.   

Prioritising and supporting employee mental health: We’ve observed organisations providing mental health training to leaders, and are recognising the need to be hyper-aware around employee mental health. One of the ways they’ve built this into the day-to-day routine is a greater focus on including wellness checks. We’ve seen leaders introduce regular leader check-ins, pulse checks and creating opportunities to ask their people how they’re feeling. From live Menti-Meter checkpoints at the start of meetings, to individual calls from Project Managers to team members, providing the air-time to ask ‘are you ok’ and being ready to provide support, has helped people feel more connected when they’re remote and raise things they may not have done so before.

Creating opportunities to re-energise: We’ve seen organisations get creative to support wellbeing by introducing rituals such as ‘Fresh Air Fridays’, normalising walking meetings, and encouraging some meetings with ‘cameras off’.


  • Explore HR involvement to better enable breadth and depth of connections to the workforce
  • Nurture an environment in which individuals feel ok to show vulnerability and ask for help from their team or leaders, whether through modelling this through leader behaviour or through including frequent wellness checks within team meetings
  • Introduce new team rituals that encourage individuals to combine work with an activity that relieves them from the monotony of their four walls and screen.

We have a few key takeaways for change and HR professionals alike, as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis globally:

  1. By shifting employee engagement online with the aid of digital tools, we’re presented with a powerful opportunity to enhance user experiences across all stages of a technology transformation. We’re shifting our attention to meaningful real time interactions and away from physical experiences that don’t enhance user experiences.
  2. We have great tools at our fingertips to support leaders to pinpoint their strengths and leverage their strengths to support their teams. We also have the capabilities to support leaders to improve their awareness and identify areas that require further learning and professional growth.
  3. As change and HR professionals we have a duty to support people as they continue to respond to challenges around employee mental health and equip leaders with the skills necessary in a post-pandemic world.

* The authors acknowledge the very different position each country is in relation to control of the pandemic and naturally those external factors have a huge influence depending on where you are in the world.