Strategies For Managing Change in Small to Mid Size Businesses

Strategies for managing change have been a focal point for senior leaders for many years, at least in larger corporate environments. If you go to the other end of the spectrum, leaders of very small businesses might scoff at the notion that billions of dollars are being spent every year on change management consultants.They may be right. The fundamentals of change management are not that complicated. But the strategies for managing change, and doing it well, are not quite the same when you have 4 or 5 employees as when you have 25 and need to grow to 100.Effective Change Management
Why do you need to change? Everyone has a different answer — my market is growing; my market is shrinking; I need to keep up with technology; I need to improve efficiency and cut costs; the list goes on.What do you need to change? There really are only three things you can change: people, process and technology.When you think about your strategies for managing change, what can you learn from the big companies that spend all that money on consultants? Once you’ve gotten big enough that you can’t control every detail, it’s your people who are going to make or break your change management efforts.Your people will learn to utilize new technology, or they won’t. Your people will learn and accept changes in work processes, or they won’t. Your people will adapt to new management, new hires, a merger with another group of people, etc., or they won’t.

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Your job is clear.Step One — Focus on the Basics
Every successful strategy for managing change does three things:Articulate a vision — So many leaders miss this step. You have an end game in mind, whether you are merging companies, changing products lines, or upgrading your back office systems. After the change is completed, this is what the company will look like, and this is how it contrasts with today. You know what the end game looks like. Never miss the opportunity to share it with your people and if appropriate, your customers. Do it frequently — repetition helps understanding.
Give the reasons — It’s amazing what happens when people don’t understand why a company is changing. In the absence of clear information, people will form their own reasons. If they don’t particularly like or agree with the changes, the reasons they dream up will usually have something to do with management wanting to get rich at their expense. That’s not why you’re putting them through changes in their status quo, is it? Then tell them why, and make it credible and honest.
Answer the WIIFM question — What’s In It For Me? Whether it’s survival (I get to keep my job), or growth (I get new opportunities and maybe more money) or something else, you need to answer that question. If you don’t, someone else will and you may not like the answer.Step Two — Communications and Patience
I probably lost half my audience with that last word, but don’t give up. You’ve done step one. You’ve got a vision, you can articulate the end game and the reasons you need to get there. And you’ve got a good strong answer to the WIIFM question.You know you need to communicate all of these, and you’re prepared to do so. But you’re an action oriented leader in a fast paced, competitive environment. Patience is not part of your DNA. Once you’ve communicated, you want to get moving!How long have you been thinking about the changes you need to make? How long did it take you to decide on the new processes, negotiate the merger, or otherwise come to the conclusions you’ve reached now? You know what needs to be done, you understand why, and you’re ready to go.How about your people? When you start your communications activities, they’re going to have questions. They’re going to be trying to understand. They may have doubts that they will need to work out. They are not at your level of comprehension or appreciation for what you’re asking them to do. There is a timeline of understanding, and they are not caught up to you on that timeline.

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The same principle applies, by the way, to your customers if anything you’re doing is going to impact them.You need to allow people to reach your level of understanding, at their own pace. That requires patience. It’s not unlimited patience, and you can do smart things like over communicating to accelerate the pace. But if you fail to allow the time for people to grasp what’s changing and why, the probability of success is decreased.Step 3 — Engage Key Opinion Leaders
No strategy for managing change would be complete without discussing the most important implementation tactic. I’ve written about Key Opinion Leaders in other articles and I need to mention it here.The Key Opinion Leaders are the people in your organization who most influence the behavior of others. They have influence because they are respected. They are your best hope for accelerating your change strategy if you find and engage them first. They could become your biggest barrier to successful change if you don’t.