Managing change in your business

Planning for change and managing it carefully is a necessary investment of your time, helping your business to run efficiently and stay competitive for the long-term. The key to managing change is to be proactive – plan ahead to stay in control of the process.

Careful planning and coordination will help you set the timing, pace and scale of changes so you can embrace them on your own terms, instead of feeling they’ve been forced on you or rushed. Without planning ahead for change, there is a danger of falling behind in your business goals. You may also find yourself trailing behind competitors who have stayed more responsive to the market.

Identifying necessary change

Research market trends and any developments in your industry sector that might warrant a shift in your approach. Analyze your competitors, taking note of any changes in strategy that might have implications for your business. For instance, if your competitors are shifting the bulk of their trading online, this could signal an important next step for you too.

Many business developments result from responding to these external factors, but you can find beneficial change closer to home too. Identifying areas for improvement in internal processes and structures will save time and money in the future, which ultimately means staying competitive. As the experts on the detail of day-to-day operations, your staff will be invaluable in highlighting where processes can be streamlined.

Most importantly, use the specific goals you have identified in your business plan to drive your timetable of change. Where have you planned to be in a year’s time? Three years’ time? Or five? What changes are needed to make that happen?

Time to prioritize

You may identify a few potential changes to implement but, as always in business, you need to be realistic – what is achievable with your current capacity? There’s a fine balance to strike between investing in progress and maintaining your current output in the meantime. Some management consultants specialize in change management so access additional expertise, or the advice of business associates with experience in this area, if you feel you need more advice.

Prioritize change on the basis of greatest potential benefit to your business goals. Avoid the temptation to just opt for those that are easiest to implement. If it makes sense to hold off, until a healthier cash flow month for instance, that’s fine too – change for change’s sake will do more harm than good. All change has implications for your business so consider it carefully. Make sure you’re convinced it’s genuinely necessary and the timing is right before moving ahead.

Is your business ready?

Foster an environment where change is welcomed as a positive part of working life. It’s human nature to be apprehensive about the unfamiliar but the right approach can ensure change isn’t seen as a worry, but instead as an opportunity for improving things.

Be transparent with your staff and discuss the rationale behind your choices. Explaining the possible benefits – and any risks of not taking the leap – will win the confidence and support of your team. Your staff will appreciate the idea being discussed openly rather than just imposed on them.

Avoid overselling when discussing your plans – being honest and upfront will ensure your credibility isn’t undermined and your employees continue to trust your judgment.

Creating a change timetable

Think through the specific operational details of your planned changes and examine all the implications for your business. This will involve thinking from every angle – your staff, your customers and your suppliers. Try to break any large changes down into smaller increments if possible. This will make the process less daunting and much more achievable.

In the excitement of a new development, the finer details can sometimes be overlooked. It’s important not to rush ahead without careful thought, potentially exposing your business to costly mistakes that could have been avoided. Put together a detailed timetable for the changes you plan to implement, tying it in specifically to your business goals. Include the specifics of what you’ll need in terms of staffing levels, skills, experience, new technology, or premises, to achieve the necessary change successfully.

You may be concerned that day-to-day business will be affected so consider this carefully when planning, and ensure you’re not overstretching your team. A key benefit of planning ahead is keeping control over the pace of change, which will help to ensure day-to-day operations are protected during the transition.

Limiting risk to your business is always crucial. If you have identified an upcoming change as risky, see if you can pilot it on a smaller scale before rolling it out completely. This will limit the fallout from large, untested changes and provide invaluable information for predicting how the larger scale shift will go. It may well help you avoid some costly mistakes with the real thing.

Keeping staff positive about change

Plan your timetable of changes to limit disruption as much as possible. The scenario to avoid at all costs is a rushed half-baked idea, poorly explained to staff and forever being updated on the go. This is damaging to staff morale – and your credibility as a boss – but it’s easily avoided.

Set aside sufficient time to ensure you’re not only communicating your plans clearly enough, but early enough. Give your staff the chance to understand exactly what they’re now doing and why. Invite feedback and comments, implement any good ideas and make sure to reward employees for them. It’s crucial they know their input is valued. This is a key stage, not only for morale, but the feedback gathered may well help you avoid pitfalls you haven’t thought of.

You can avoid creating an environment of uncertainty in the workplace by only communicating your plans once you’ve given them careful thought. Hinting at upcoming developments that aren’t yet fully formed can create worry. For instance, if there are concerns over a possible restructure, you may lose good staff seeking more job security if you aren’t quick to reassure them.

Assign key responsibilities for keeping changes on track, making sure it truly is a team effort. Recognize your employees’ contributions to positive change as part of your appraisals. This will help your staff feel appreciated and invested in the progress of your business, together with having a real sense of achievement at having contributed to its success.

Next steps

  • To pick up the tools for planning change in response to the market, see Comerica’s guides ‘Market research made easy’ and ‘The value of competitor analysis’.
  • Meet with your staff to identify any areas for improvement internally.
  • Review your business plan and identify the changes needed to make your specific business goals happen.
  • Seek advice from experienced associates and skilled professionals.

This article is being provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal or tax advice.

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