Managing Change in your Business

One thing’s for certain, change is part of running a small business. No sooner do you get comfortable doing one thing, when something changes and you need to adapt. In small business, that’s the way it is, and your capacity to manage change is vital to surviving. That doesn’t mean we like it or that it’s easy, but it’s a skill we need to hone in order to stay competitive and keep up with what’s happening in the world. Managing change involves getting people to believe in you and requires communication skills to help you build support for the decision to change. A good understanding of the psychological and emotional effects of change is also extremely helpful. Whether you’re managing the change in just yourself, or you have a group of people you’re leading through the change it’s important that you understand the 3 three stages of change.

The Ending Stage

Transition starts with an ending. Whenever there is a change, something is ending and it is necessary to move toward something different. Emotions in the ending stage often include anger, shock, sadness, and denial. It is also accompanied by a lack of confidence, worry about the future, and grief over the loss.

Neutral Stage

This is the most uncomfortable stage of change because it is filled with uncertainty, however it is also the stage with the greatest potential for growth and self-discovery. It involves acceptance of the loss and the necessity for change (whether the change is self-imposed or coming as a result of external forces). It is a time to question, reflect, absorb, think, plan and explore. It is a time where you begin to loosen your grip on the past, and start to turn toward the future.

New Beginning Stage

At this stage you’re nervous, but energy begins to reappear and as you take small steps forward you begin to regain your confidence. Eventually, you start to feel excitement about what lies ahead and what was in the past begins to fade.

These three stages always accompany a change. Depending on the change itself, you may move through these stages very slowly or necessity may require you to move through them at lightning speed! Now that you understand the stages you and/or your staff will be going through, what do you need to effectively navigate change in your business?

Demonstrate Leadership

The first change management skill you will want to focus on is your leadership ability – getting people to believe in you (or perhaps for you to begin believing in yourself). As the leader in your business others look to you for direction, not only in terms of business activities but also in terms of behavior, ethics, and standards. If you are nervous and stuck in Stage 2, neutral, you’ll never be able to move your team forward. Do things to show your own confidence in making the changes. Demonstrate the behaviours and attitudes you wish to see in them. Building your ability as a leader is the first step in the change management process. When employees believe in you and trust what you’re doing, the campaign for change is much more likely to succeed.

Communicate

Leaders of today interact with their employees. Getting to know your employees and discussing the problems they are facing on a day-to-day basis is the norm for small business owners. In some ways, this makes it easier to work with people as they go through the three stages of change. Be real with them. Don’t hide the realities of the change, but also acknowledge what they are going through emotionally as they try to cope with it.

Once a change occurs, it is very important to keep communicating on a regular basis with all affected. Let your employees know what is happening. It will minimize their fears and help them move more quickly into stage three. If your communication skills are weak, perhaps find someone within your company who is well-respected and can assist you in communicating the things people need to know.

As hard as you try to demonstrate strong leadership and communication skills and prepare yourself for the three stages of change, there will always be some employees who can’t cope with the change and either leave your company, or worse, stay but make it very difficult for you. Working with them one-on-one may help them to move forward, but if you can’t make progress, the best thing may be to let them go.

Change is inevitable in business – especially small business. The better equipped you are personally to manage change in your life, the better you’ll be able to manage change for your team. Grow your leadership and communication skills continually and you’ll be better prepared to navigate changes when they come.

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