Like everything else, businesses can’t grow without changing. Right? The nature of growth is change. You can’t want your business to grow while holding onto everything staying the same. When you have a clear intention to grow your business, you have the opportunity to carefully plan the necessary changes, implement it in a controlled way and regulate the pace of it.
However, the other thing about change is that there is an awful lot of it that happens without our instigation or involvement. Change happens, and just like an individual, how a business responds to it is the difference between going under or surviving or thriving. As the pace of change today is unprecedented, it stands to reason that as business owners it is vital for us to develop the skills to not just cope with change but to master it.
Some of the changes a business typically experiences might evolve so gradually that we only become aware of what is happening when the impact shows up in our financial results. This includes:
- rising costs and reduced profitability
- customer fall-off and decreased sales
- lowering team morale and declining productivity
To avoid these kinds of unpleasant wake-up calls, business owners can anticipate change by proactively implementing programs and monitoring key metrics and ratios that can help to raise the red flag long before the bottom-line is hurt. For example:
- implementing systems to actively manage costs and introducing well-conceived purchasing policies so that the reduction of expenses and improvement of profitability is entrenched in the day to day life of the business
- implementing an ongoing customer relationship management program that enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of your existing customers’ business with you; their thoughts and attitudes, and the motivations for them to recommend you
- implementing an active employee development program that fully engages your team members, helps to maintain high levels of productivity and contributes to job satisfaction
Strategies such as these help you as the business owner to anticipate, identify and respond appropriately to what can change without your intention. However, as leader of the business, you are also the driving force of intentional change for positive growth and development.
Change to create growth
In an environment where so much change happens, often quickly, beyond our control, we can get caught up in our response to change. As business owners and managers, we need to make sure this focus doesn’t happen at the expense of our important role to also create change, which is a key leadership function.
There’s enough change happening in the external environment to ensure that we don’t need to instigate it just for the sake of change. Changes we intend should be clearly identified and comprehensively analysed and considered.
Any change that we intend as the leader of the business needs to fit well with two critical groups – our team and our customers. We don’t want to surprise them, we want to engage them throughout the process. Therefore, when you are considering a new direction, or an expansion, or any other key business change, you need to communicate openly and clearly with both your employees and your existing customers and bring them along on the ride. If customers don’t accept the changes you want to make, you face a loss of sales and goodwill (however, sometimes this is inevitable). If your team doesn’t accept the changes you want to make, they won’t be implemented according to your intentions. You have to get everyone on board.
To get everyone on board, the reasoning and the inspiration for the change needs to be clear and compelling. You need to make sure the changes you propose are relevant and are not overwhelming. Your positive vision of the post-change reality needs to excite and delight both your customer and employee bases. As a leader you need to inspire their involvement, grant them an appropriate sense of control and promote the opportunity they will reap.
Always consider the human element
Resistance is a natural human response to change, because all change, even change for the better, disrupts comfort zones. Intentional organisational change always demands special communication efforts, and often requires the implementation of focused change management strategies.
As the business owner, you cannot effectively implement changes just by ordering them. That is not the way that positive and lasting organisational change takes place. Your team needs to understand the benefits of the change you propose so that they can champion it.
It is also wise not to expect that any change you have planned will simply go smoothly and quickly. You have to be prepared for roadblocks, delays and any other resistance that may come up. You have to be resilient.
Resilience has emerged as key 21st century business skill. You have to expect the knocks, take the knocks and know how you are going to get up and keep going. By modelling this resilience, you will help your team members develop it also as a skill. Over time, by example, you can instil resilience as a valued quality in your organisational culture.
Developing resilience as an organisational muscle can come about as you model the way to handle the typical challenges of going through organisational change, such as:
- it is taking longer than we expected
- unexpected challenges have arisen
- implementing the change is distracting us from day to day business
- we don’t all have the levels of skills and knowledge to transition smoothly
- we need more training than we expected
- external factors we didn’t consider are impacting on the change process
Intentional change, well thought out and implemented in the right way for the right reasons can result in a critical growth spurt for any organization. However, a poorly implemented change process can literally sink a business.
As a business owner/manager, think about change very carefully; apply rigorous critical thinking and deep analysis and don’t set out on the path alone. Make sure your team and your existing customers are keen to undertake the journey with you. But also be aware, not everyone will be ‘on the bus’. Unfortunately some will not want to get on, or will want to get off. But well thought out change management will minimise the impact of this and you should aim to make the personal transition as comfortable as possible.