As a small business owner, one thing you must manage is the agility of your organization. I don’t mean in terms of software development, but the ability to change and manage change.
A saying I learned early on in my career is “Change is the only constant in business”. I took this to heart and it has helped me in many ways. If you do not subscribe to this concept I urge you to review the last 10, or even 5 years of economic data with respect to businesses, their growth, their transformation, and their extinction. Successful companies have changed, transformed, and modified their approach to the market many times over, with Apple being a star example of this notion.
Change can be, and often time is, disruptive to an organization. It challenges you to become more efficient, it demands you meet market expectations, and best of all - it has the ability to transform your organization.
At this point, we know what change is, what it can do, and why it is beneficial to us. Now let’s discuss the implementation hurdles that we often times face, and how we can overcome these and practice change management.
Drawing on my own experience, change management can be a grueling task at times, but it is not without reward. The following elements aid in this process, and tend to work harmoniously with the implementation of change.
Leading by Example
If you haven’t figured this one out by now, let’s get there quickly. If you talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. If you don’t lead by example, do not expect the change to be pervasive, long-term, or what you envisioned. This one is clear enough that it doesn’t warrant significant discussion, but just understand that being a leader is not simply telling someone what to do, or what our goal is, it sometimes involves getting in the trenches, potentially performing the tasks you’re asking to be performed or doing what you’re asking your team to do, and ultimately leading your company/team to success.
I can’t stress this one enough - if your leadership team does not buy into the change you are looking to enact, your probability of success diminishes significantly. Involve the team in the process, allow them to mutually arrive at what success looks like, and incorporate their feedback.
Let me provide an example of how one can get buy-in not only from the leadership team, but from the whole company. A company I was recently working with hired a new leader to help transform the organization as we grew, let’s call him Bill. Bill proposed a transformational change not only to his team, but across the company and challenged each and every one of the 150 employees to contribute and provide their input to make the company into what they felt would be more efficient, sustainable and able to grow. After all, we as leaders do not fully understand the trials and tribulations our direct reports go through on a daily basis, and who better to provide ways to make the company more efficient? This data was gathered, analyzed and summarized into meaningful information, which was then distributed to the entire company for consumption. The company voted on the top 5 initiatives to undertake, and those alone were the focus for the next 3 months.
Setting the Tone Company Wide
This is a critical step in the change management process, as without the proper tone and expectations set within the company, the likelihood of success falls precipitously. Setting the tone not only involves communication, but backing it up when push comes to shove.
In our example with Bill, we successfully set the tone by naming the project, communicating frequently with our employees, and created a hierarchical structure complete with project initiative sponsors, project leaders, and task managers. Each initiate team decided how frequently they needed to meet, operated autonomously, and took ownership of their initiative.
Naming the project may seem trivial, but we involved the entire company in selecting the name, voted 3 to the top, and voted company-wide from these top 3. If you don’t believe naming a project has an impact, I challenge you to try this with that next project you undertake. Involve your team, collaborate and white-board names, and have the team select. You’ll be surprised at how the team owns the project after this exercise
Overall, change management can be a long process; it is not without risk, heartache or frustration, but the returns are significant. Remember that change management is like a glacier, on the surface it looks easy, but the majority of the glacier is not visible and this is where the hard work lies.