One of the only things we can be truly certain of, is that change is an inevitable part of life. This is especially true in the life of your small business. Changes in the economy, customer mindset and preferences, local and world markets, purchasing patterns, business cycles – these happen all the time, and your readiness to accept and embrace change determines your capacity to compete in a dynamic and competitive marketplace. But change isn’t easy for most of us. We tend to like things the way they are – especially if we feel they’re working. Ken Blanchard, management consultant and author of the international best-seller, The One-Minute Manager, identified seven dynamics of change. These are predictable patterns of how most people deal with change. Whether you’re a sole proprietor or work with a staff, knowing about these common reactions to change can help you to navigate change in your business more effectively.
Managing change when you’re on your own is one thing, but managing it when you’re working with a team of others is quite another. Fears and inadequacies arise around your capacity to manage the change effectively. Doing things in a new way is always a little awkward, and feeling nervous about how you’ll do, as compared to others on your team, is natural.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, ask yourself whether fear is holding you back from making the change. Explore those fears and recognize their capacity to hold your business back from future success. If you’ve got staff, acknowledge their feelings and create opportunities that make it safe for people to be successful on their own terms. Establish an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes and where your team learns from each other.
As a change leader you need to acknowledge that people will feel the loss of the old ways and not expect them to grab hold of the new, overnight. They may long for “the way things used to be”, but be patient. If you handle things right, you’ll soon have them recognizing the benefits of the new way of doing things, or at least accepting the new way as the standard for your business.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, be honest about what you’re giving up and how you’re feeling about it. Trying to ignore those feelings and pushing through them will only make you resentful and you won’t be able to fully embrace the new ways and methods. If you’ve got staff, let them grieve for a short while about what they perceive they have lost. Then guide them towards positive acceptance of the new.
Everyone wants to feel their situation is unique and special. This is human nature. Even if everyone else in the office is going through the same thing, somehow it makes us feel better to think that our circumstances are more difficult, more challenging, or different than what everyone else is going through.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, ask yourself if you feel this way. If you do, be proactive about finding others who have gone through something similar. Hang out with them, learn from them, and open your eyes to what they have to offer from their experiences. If you’ve got staff, find ways to bring them together and unite them in their experiences. If you can get people feeling empathy toward others, and recognizing they are not alone, you’ll be a lot further ahead in building team buy-in.
There’s a limit to how much change people can manage, so if it’s within your control, try to manage change in small increments. While most people find small changes manageable, massive change can cause people to shut down and render them incapable of moving forward.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, be honest about how much you can handle. Whenever possible, try to implement change in small steps so that you can be on top of things each step of the way. If you’ve got staff, bring in changes one or two at a time. Giving people the opportunity to become successful at managing them will make them more confident and open as changes continue to occur. If the amount or size of the change is beyond your control and is radical, you may find it helpful to seek the counsel of and/or hire someone who has managed organizational changes like yours to assist with implementation.
Some people thrive on change and find it exciting. Others are threatened by even the smallest change. Any change will have “early adopters” (those people who buy-in right away without the slightest hesitation); “opportunity groups” (those people who could be influenced toward or against the change), and “resisters” (those who will go kicking and screaming all the way to the end). If you know where your people fit into these categories, you will be better able to bring them on board.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, which of these three categories do you naturally fit into? If you’re an early adopter, you’ll have no problem going for it. If you need to be convinced, gather the evidence you need to help you accept the change and move forward. If you’re a natural resister, ask yourself what’s at stake if you don’t find a way to implement the change. If you’ve got staff, get your early adopters onside and use them to help you sell the change to your team. Your largest group will likely be your opportunity group, so create positive strategies that will win them over rather than push them toward the resisters. Be patient with your resisters, but let them know that their resistance will not impact the fact that the change is there to stay. If they are too vocal and/or destructive within the team about the change, you need to ask yourself whether you need to let them go in order to move your team forward.
People might fear they aren’t smart enough, computer savvy enough, quick enough, or otherwise unprepared to meet the challenge successfully.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, what resources do you need to make the changes most effectively? What do you need to do to get those resources in place? If you’ve got staff, make sure you offer the necessary resources people need in terms of training, safe opportunities to practice, mentoring and ongoing support so that they can take on the new tasks with greater confidence and less fear.
Blanchard says, “If people perceive that you are not serious about doing things the new way, they will go back to the old way. Sometimes this will be in the open, and sometimes it will be covert.” It’s human nature to go back to what we know best.
Change Strategy – if you’re in business on your own, find a way to keep yourself accountable to staying on track. Ask a business colleague, good friend, or mentor to do this for you. It’s important to have someone on board who will alert you if you’re falling back into your old ways. If you’ve got staff, stay on top of where people are in managing the change. Deal with “backsliders” quickly and decisively, reiterating the fact that you are moving forward with this change, and giving them the tools to climb back on board.
Managing change isn’t easy, but it can be done effectively if you understand the natural response to change and are proactive about strategically managing those responses. The ability to lead effectively through change is a “make or break” skill that will impact how effectively your business moves into the future.