Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said “the only constant in life is change”, and this wisdom from 475 BC remains applicable today. People change, situations change, and we must continually adapt. Not all change is bad, though, and depending on how we choose to engage with it, it can bring about great success. Small businesses, by nature, need to be flexible and adaptive, even though this is sometimes uncomfortable. Very often the change that happens for a small business is not chosen, but is forced on the business. The times when the change is planned, it allows for more contemplation and planned action rather than forced reaction. But what happens when change happens unexpectedly, or when you as a small business owner realise that change needs to be effected? How do you implement and manage this, with the least amount of pain possible, and in a manner that benefits everyone involved? It can be incredibly tricky, and so we have compiled five steps to help guide you through the process.
Step 1: Build a case for change
The first, and most important step of managing the change is providing a clear and tangible reason for the change, whether implemented out of necessity, or whether planned carefully. Some humans are, by nature, more resistant to change than others, and if you have employees in your business who struggle with change, they will be less likely to buy into the change if they do not fully understand why it needs to take place. It is good practice to provide clear and concise insights for the decisions that were made and ensuring that employees understand that the change will ultimately bring benefits, albeit in the shorter or longer term. It is also important to let everyone know that the change may not always be easy, and that for some, it will never feel beneficial. And that is also okay. The importance is to explain the change. You know you have accomplished this step successfully when team members can explain why they, and you, are implementing the changes, even if they have not yet fully accepted the change.
Step 2: Let everyone feel they have had their voices heard
Once the reasoning for the change has been explained, it is of absolute importance that the team is given the opportunity to share. This luxury may not be afforded in larger corporations where there are thousands of employees, but there is no reason not to do this in a small business. Each member of the team is vital and it is therefore important their voices be heard. Some people may have little to say on the matter, while others may have excellent ideas and suggestions.
This does not mean that authority and decision-making is handed over to the team; you as the leader are still expected to make final decisions, but good practice is to have others give input and to acknowledge their contributions. Ultimately, this helps employees process the change and prepare to accept the changes or not. Understand very well that some changes may greatly impact on the business, which in turn will impact on some employees staying, and others not. This is also okay. Understand that change is inevitable, and change creates a chain reaction of change, and it is up to every role player in the drama to choose their act. And the choice can be to stay or to go, depending on the severity of change. Through the secondary change, further growth happens. As a small business owner, be prepared for this secondary change. These are often the greatest blessings in disguise.
Step 3: Allocate adequate resources
As you now get ready to implement the change, ensure you have planned and allocated resources to ensure success of implemented change. If you are in a position where you have resources to help you get through the change, make sure you plan what resources will be required to get through the change. And then implement methodically. It is again very important to keep the team involved, and some of the best advice would be to put relevant team members in charge of overseeing the change plan.
Very often you will not have the luxury to throw more resources or money at the problem, and you also may have lost some resources along the way who did not accept the change as explained in step two. This is where you make a plan. You encourage the team members who you see as long term, important members of the team, to stay on course. To steer ahead, even if ahead feels stormy. As a small business owner it is important to be in the storm, with the team, for as long as the storm holds. No storm holds forever. Reward those who hang in there at the end with rewards suitable for victors. Those who have kept on keeping on when it really looked as if giving up, or turning around, might have been easier. Rewards such as profit sharing, bonus schemes and salaries market related with large organisations come to mind.
Many small businesses are constantly pressed for time and resources and will therefore be unable to allocate additional funding to ease the burden of change. Just you, as business owner truly understands the impact of when there really is no additional money to make the change easier for all. Only you know how it feels when you are the only one having to come up with the plans to meet all the financial commitment and pay salaries in times of cash flow constraints as a result of unexpected change. But - the secret is to plan the possible impact that will occur if you do not have additional resources to throw at unexpected change. Again, it is okay. Stay the course. With those team members you want to keep on the boat until the sunshine breaks through.
Step 4: Keep implementation simple
When it is time to implement change, always try to make the process quick, effective and as painless as possible. Remember that you are dealing with people and ensuring continued commitment is what will drive success. Let those who at this stage still battle with the change go. You read that correctly. The impact of those who resist change continuously will be disastrous in your business in the long term. The only sure way to grow from a small business to a bigger business, to a large business, where all benefit greatly, is to have a business who is highly adaptable to change, and a business who gets to implementing change in the simplest and quickest way. Look for the simplest route to implementation with the least amount of disruption and clear measures of progress and success. Also, try implement quick, short term wins throughout the process so everyone feels the change is beneficial after all. Again, it is important to note that a small business is not a large business. And employees who work in small businesses should not be the traditional run of the mill nine-to-fivers who are looking for jobs, but rather those who are looking for life changing experiences, extreme personal growth and freedom of mind. If you have the right people on board, the change will be implemented quickly and simply.
Step 5: Ensure sustainability
Finally, once change has been implemented, it is imperative that sustainability is ensured by continually checking back. Change is hard – so see which lessons can be taken forward, and check to make sure the change is now firmly in place and accepted by those who are important to the sustainability of your business in the long run. You can ensure sustainability by making sure that the measures you set for each change initiative are measured and continue to be reported on. Again, keep this simple by using team meeting agendas and other communication channels that already exist until you are certain that the change is fully embedded.
In closing – change is inevitable. The creation of a culture that embraces change will ensure that the inevitable future change is as painless and successful as possible.
Teamwork HR, January 2015. Managing Change in a Small Business. Accessed from: http://teamworkhr.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81:managing-change-in-a-small-business&catid=17&Itemid=174
Ferrazzi, K, 2014. Managing Change, One Day at a Time. Accessed from: https://hbr.org/2014/07/managing-change-one-day-at-a-time
Lepsinger, R, 2015. 7 Secrets of Successful Change Management. Accessed from: http://www.business2community.com/leadership/7-secrets-of-successful-change-management-01361110#XisyRVcVPUVpm1Fq.97
Kirke, D, 2012. Steps to Effective Change Management. Accessed from: http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/10/steps-to-effective-change-management.html