Every small business owner at some point learns that change is necessary to survive. While most of the time those changes relate to the products and services a business offers or how they market them to their customers, sometimes change needs to be internal.
Improving business processes and technology is often critical to keep up with the evolving demands of customers and marketplace competitors. Unfortunately, simply dumping new technology, processes, and/or requirements onto employees without warning rarely has the desired effect.
In the enterprise world, dealing with these types of internal changes has its own buzzword: change management. And like just about any other industry buzzword that describes a business problem, change management has become its own cottage industry, replete with specialized consultants, software, and industry pundits.
Change management is really just a fancy term to describe the process of smoothly transitioning employees from one way of doing things to another. There are good and bad ways to do it. It’s important to know the difference.
Why Change Management Is Necessary
It doesn’t matter if a business has ten employees, a hundred, or a thousand. Changing the way employees do things is always disruptive. The goal of change management is to minimize that disruption as much as possible while simultaneously maximizing employees’ adoption of whatever new systems are being put in place.
As a business grows, one of the most common internal changes is implementing new technology. CRM systems like Salesforce, cloud-based document creation and management tools like Google Workspace and Office 365, or even migrating to a VoIP phone system. Each of these tools require planning and preparation before implementing.
When businesses don’t have a change management strategy, they’re playing with fire. Too many organizations have spent tremendous amounts of time and money to select and purchase new technology, only to have the implementation crash and burn because they didn’t have a plan in place for managing change.
Employees spend years doing things a particular way. It’s often their familiarity with their process and technology that enables their efficiency. Changing that process and technology without warning, even with the best intentions, is likely going to have a negative impact.
Principles Of Change Management
The good news is that there are some basic principles of change management that any employer can easily follow to help improve their employees’ attitudes and adoption of new technology and business processes. For example:
- Start at the top: Company leaders must embrace change first, because employees will be looking to them to set an example.
- Involve every layer: Change efforts must include plans for pushing responsibility for implementation down, so that change filters through the organization.
- Create ownership: Ownership is best created by involving employees in identifying problems and crafting solutions. Ownership is reinforced with incentives and rewards.
- Communicate the message: The best change programs reinforce core messages through regular, timely advice that is both inspirational and practicable.
Effective change management programs reinforce core messaging via consistent and regular messaging. Messaging needs to be both inspirational and actionable.
- Address culture explicitly: Leaders need to be explicit about company culture and underlying behaviors that will best support the new way of doing business.
- Prepare for the unexpected: Effectively managing change requires regular reassessment of its impact and the organization’s willingness and ability to adopt the next stage of evolution. No change program goes exactly according to plan.
- Speak to the individual: Employees will react to what they see and hear around them, and need to be involved in the change process. Company leadership often focuses on planning and processes, rather than human issues that require them to respond emotionally.
Of course, every business will have its own unique culture and circumstances. Change management is not a blanket process that should be applied the same way for every organization. It’s an idea and a template that should be adapted to fit the situation.