Managing change for small businesses
The importance of managing change for small businesses
Don’t be afraid of change, they say. But the reality is, change is scary and it affects people in different ways. It also affects businesses. Change in the small business environment can be disruptive and exciting at best and destructive as worst. But it can also bring great opportunity if it's been well thought out.
"The only thing to fear is change not managed well".
Change management isn’t just for big business. In fact, like a small boat on rough seas, change can threaten small businesses even more than big businesses, which have more resources at their disposal.
Two types of change
There are two types of change in business: planned and unplanned. Your response to each of these will be proactive and reactive respectively. Either way, a well thought out change management plan will help you steer your business through the choppy waters and out the other side stronger than ever.
The difference between change management plans for planned and unplanned changes lies in the detail. By its nature, planned change is easier to prepare for whereas unplanned change can catch you unaware. Therefore a reactive plan may simply be checklist of things to consider.
5W2H and the golden triangle
Where possible, your change management plan should encompass all aspects related to the change. That is, the 5 Ws and 2 Hs: what, why, when, where and who, how and how much.
For unplanned change this may not be realistic. In which case, focus forwards. What has happened, has happened, now what can you do about it to get the best outcome and how?
Addressing the 5 Ws and 2 Hs is a way to guide your thinking and structure your plan. Being methodical and working though each one will result in a comprehensive plan and a smooth transition.
However, long-term success will rely on your attention throughout the change process to the three essential elements of effective change management: people, process and technology.
People – Change can do strange things to people. Don’t make the mistake of forcing change on people; bring them along with you, each step of the way. Involving them early means they will be more open to the change, more engaged and less negatively affected. This applies to both employees and customers.
Communication is key. Give people the information they need, when they need it. Don’t underestimate how powerful knowledge is. When people understand change, they are more willing to embrace it.
Process – For any organisational change, you’ll need the right processes to support it. This is often where things can fall over. Think about the flow-on effects, even tiny changes can have huge repercussions further down the line or in other parts of the business. And remember, if you are not hands-on in all aspects of your business, you may not even be aware of potential flow on effects. Talk to the people on the ground, they probably know more about your business than you realise.
Technology – Technology is the last piece of the puzzle. You’ll need the right technology to support the change. Whether it’s new technology, or changes or enhancements to existing technology, think about it as an enabler, not a solution.
Don’t declare victory too soon
Once the change is in place and things are ticking along nicely, it’s easy to shift your focus and move on, particularly if you are a business owner or senior leader. But remember, you probably started this journey first and are therefore more likely to finish first. But there will be stragglers and if you shift your focus, you’ll leave them behind. It can also take processes a bit longer catch up, so stay aware for a least a one full business cycle.
Change has the ability to make or break even the best business. A change management plan for a small business doesn’t need to be an onerous task. Just take some time to think “what if?” and jot some down notes. Even a little bit of forethought can start you on the right track when change arrives.
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