Every business of every size has to be evolving with the times and today, the times are changing fast. Whether it’s a new system, new technology, physical workplace design, working approach, restructure or anything else you can think of, all change creates an impact. When it’s managed correctly, change becomes an opportunity to take a step towards a successful future, but get it wrong and it can create very real problems.
Drops in productivity, morale, output and profitability can be associated with poorly-managed change and the stats don’t look good. From as far back as 1996, the data has stayed pretty consistent – around a third of change projects are unsuccessful. IBM’s Making Change Work (2008), although a few years old now, is one of the most recent comprehensive investigations and backs up the claim by reporting that 65 per cent of change projects fail to meet their objectives.
With change driven either by business necessity, or an investment in the future, the stakes are high. To get it wrong could be catastrophic!
Small businesses often find themselves without the resources or additional budget available to invest in making change stick. Their focus is understandably on making the project happen as that’s where the investment is.
The most common mistake when creating change in any business is assuming that just because it is well-intentioned, it will succeed. How readily and well change is adopted depends on many factors, not just the change itself. I recently spoke with a huge organisation that implemented an enterprise social network system. Once the roll-out was complete, the systems team sat back and waited for everyone to start using it… but nothing happened!
They had put the platform in place, but not created the reason for people to use it. There was no connection. Unless a change is connected to the needs, habits and behaviours of the people it affects, they will avoid it. We’re creatures of habit and have evolved to give preference to things we recognise. Taking us out of that comfort zone is unnatural, so there has to be a compelling reason to change our behaviour.
Many large businesses recognise the importance of connecting people with change and invest in transition programmes that help to make the connection that causes positive adoption. Traditionally, these focused on communicating change and providing training, but as we’ve seen, that’s no longer enough. The most effective programmes adopt a more creative approach that address habitual, behavioural and cultural impacts, alongside those traditional themes.
Whether or not your small business can afford to invest in an expert to help you through the transition journey, there are certain things you should be thinking about any time change is made in your organisation. Here are the top five things to consider to turn change in your organisation into an opportunity for future success.
Put people first
The only reason for change in any organisation is to help it become more successful. When people thrive, organisations thrive too and whether the focus of your change is on your physical workplace, company structure, technology, communications, servicing your customers, the way you work or on your team itself, keep in mind that people are the one variable your business can’t do without.
If you have no customers, you have no business. If you have noone to service the customers, you have no business. Always keep that at the front of your mind. It will help you to plan properly and consider changes before you make them. Knee-jerk changes are far more prone to fail.
Consider the impact
How will the change affect your leaders, your team or your customers? Will it modify the way they interact, or alter their relationships? It may be designed to help them work better, but consider how it could affect them emotionally, either as a group or individually.
Understanding that will help you identify potential areas for extra attention in advance. For example, if the change will impact someone’s sense of belonging, you can work to address that as part of your change implementation. If you don’t consider potentially negative impacts, you can’t prevent them!
Give everyone ownership
When a change is launched on teams as a decree, rather than a conversation, it invariably fails. From company restructures to workplace redesign, people connect best when they feel part of the process. Let your team in, ask their opinion, involve them. Adoption of your change will become much smoother and you’ll discover useful perspectives and ideas along the way that could enhance the improvements.
Don’t just tell people what’s happening, start a conversation. Keep it positive and constructive, but make it two-way and actively invite input. It will help you to consider the change as you plan, identify potential obstacles to adoption and keep your finger on the pulse of your business. If everyone knows everything, there are no nasty surprises at the end!
There are no prizes for being stuffy or serious. Don’t manage your change the way you believe businesses should manage change, manage it with the personality of your own company. Be creative, think of fun ways to engage your people in the change. Remember, this is all about creating a meaningful connection that leads to positive adoption. The only way to connect with people on a human level is by being human.
There are some amazing things you can do and if you need ideas, see what others have done and adapt in your own way. Let your mind run free.
Keep these things in mind and you will give your business the best chance of embedding any change and evolving. But most importantly – and as a bonus tip – remember to celebrate everything. Whatever the driving force behind your change, even if it’s a last-ditch attempt to rescue the business, be positive and vocally recognise every small step forward. Engaging your people positively is the name of the game – drive forward at all times.
These tips form the basis of a great change management programme and if you create your own around this framework, your experience around change will be a positive one.
Remember though, every individual change project forms part of a bigger picture, the ongoing evolution of your business. Don’t see them as isolated one-off pieces of work, but as individual contributions to the story you’re telling to the world. The next page is always ready to be written!
Andy Swann is ‘change maker’ at BDG architecture + design.