A Guide to Managing Change in Your Business
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Change is inevitable in business. Even if you are staunchly resistant to it your environment will change around you and you will be left behind. Driving and monitoring change in your business constantly is, therefore, essential.
Making change before you are forced to can see you gain an advantage over your competitors, and bringing about a culture of constant innovation can take your business to an entirely new level. This article will give you a rundown of how to manage change in your business, including how to identify where change is needed, preparing for and implementing change, and creating a long-term culture of change in your business.
How do I know what to change in my business?
Rarely is change not needed in business, but it can be difficult to identify what needs changing and what is worth the investment.
When looking at what areas to change, ask yourself where do I want to be in a few years’ time and what do you need to do to get there? What is my competition doing? Consider benchmarking yourself against comparators in key areas. This will help you to understand what is working in other sectors that could work in your sector. Are companies leveraging e-commerce and apps in a comparable sector or could this work in your sector?
Also consider what your management team is doing as the quality of the people who work for you is the single most important factor in the success of your business, and this starts from the top. Think about whether additional training and support could fix any issues you identify. Don’t rule out replacing underperformers as a last resort.
And finally look to your staff and what they believe needs changing. Not only will your eyes and ears on the ground be able to provide effective insights into areas of inefficiency or frustration, canvassing their opinion in this way will make them more likely to accept the changes you implement.
How do I prioritise and prepare for change in my companny?
When you have identified what needs changing, you need to work out how to prioritise and plan for change.
Start by working out which changes are most important – don’t focus on what is easiest to change, but which changes will bring the largest and most profound impact on your business and plan for continuous smaller changes. Too many large changes at once can shock people and rock the boat; continual, small improvement is easier to plan for and manage. Additionally, constant small changes get staff used to a culture of change within your business.
Creating a plan for change will be a massive help to ensure its a success. Here’s a few steps to follow:
Step 1: Ensure the planned changes are in line with the overall vision for your business: If the change runs contrary to your overarching objective, it is likely to be counterproductive, not to mention harder to sell to staff.
Step 2: Ensure the planned change is SMART. Specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-limited.
Step 3: Check how your business is performing in the areas you want to change. Consider polling consumers or suppliers or benchmarking against other businesses as a starting point. Getting a clear picture early on will allow you to measure the effect of the changes as you implement them.
Step 4: Consider the implications of change. Change will nearly always involve extra work and expense in the short term. Ask yourself the following, in particular:
- Will my cashflow support making this change, or will I need to take out a loan?
- Will I need to change the management structure?
- Do my management team have enough resources and spare time to effect the change properly?
- Do I need to give any employees extra training or support?
- How will staff react to the introduction of new technology?
- Will a change in working hours disrupt employees’ personal lives?
Step 5: Consider whether your policies are compatible with the proposed change. For example, if you wish to drive down costs, a commitment to high standards of quality from suppliers might undermine this.
Step 6: Take advice. Talk to comparable businesses about their own experience of implementing similar change. You might want to bring management consultants in to help you deal with tricky changes such as a company merger or downsizing.
Step 7: Pilot the change. Especially if it is a risky change, explore its implications in a trial period before committing fully.
Step 8: Timetable change. Setting up clear dates and time limits will help to focus people on the end goal.
How do I implement change in my small business?
All change is different but there are general ways to maximise its success.
Try to implement some change straight away and give people responsibility for the change. Although very senior people in your business should ultimately be responsible for the success or failure of change, involve everyone in the process if you can. Include ‘contribution to change’ in performance appraisals.
Monitor its progress. Use the metrics you gathered when planning change and work out how you have done against your original plans and deal with problems as soon as they arise – making sure it’s supported throughout your business. Ensure all management action is in line with your goals and that your senior team are willing to step in when difficulties arise.
Remember to continue to reinforce the change after it is implemented and point out the benefits that the business has achieved since it has occurred – this will make it easier to sell subsequent changes to the people involved.
How do I sell change to my staff?
Whatever your intentions, unless you have the co-operation of the people involved, change will not happen. Key to gaining co-operation with your staff will be understanding of why people might be resistant to change. Common sources of resistance to change include cynicism and misunderstanding of change and people’s general fear of change. People fear the unknown – do not underestimate this as a factor.
As long as you are implementing change for a good reason, you should be able to sell the changes to the people involved if you manage the process carefully. Start by explaining the benefits the change will bring. Reinforce this by outlining the negative consequences if change doesn’t occur. If you have examples of successful change in the past, or other companies implementing similar changes to good effect, use them.
After introducing the initial concept, set up a proper process for communicating change. Be as open as possible – keeping employees in the dark will lead people to spread rumours and fear the worst. Always give important news in person, followed by in writing. And welcome feedback and reasoned objections, and prepare yourself for short-term unpopularity if the change will be a difficult one.
Additionally make an effort to get your cynics on-side. Counterintuitive as it may seem, you should target those most resistant to change as they will often be keenly aware of the potential negative implications. Get them on-side and the task of persuading the rest of your workforce becomes a breeze. And involve everyone who will be affected – if people feel left out of the process, they will fail to engage with it. Try and assign specific responsibilities so employees ‘own’ the change.
Throughout communication with employees, make sure to be clear about the effects of change and that it will happen. If a change is going to lead to pay cuts and job losses, be very clear about this from the outset. Glossing over the implications will only lead to resentment and loss of respect in the long term.
How do I create a culture of change?
If change is ingrained into your company ethos, staff will eventually see it as part and parcel of working for you.
When attempting to build a culture of change, bear in mind that nothing is perfect. Almost everything can be made more efficient or improved upon in some way. Also it’s your employees that drive change so continually canvass opinion amongst your workforce as to what could be improved upon, and be sure to reward people with ideas that get implemented.
Finally keep an eye on the horizon. Change shouldn’t be a stop-start process but something that happens constantly. Even when you are in the middle of implementing a change, keep an eye on opportunities for further improvement.