Mastering change management
First published 01 March 2019 • Updated 19 July 2019
Your business won’t stand still. It should evolve over time, and part of your job is to make that process as smooth and beneficial as possible. For instance, you will need to adapt to a changing business environment, economic factors such as inflation or taxation, and social elements like the increasing preference for online shopping. On another level, you may need to change the team structure or hierarchy of your business as it grows.
As necessary as change may be, it can be disruptive and even a source of worry for your employees. The process of change may harm productivity in the short term, and if handled badly can have long-term impacts too. Proper planning and management is therefore essential.
What is change management?
Change management is the process of getting your organisation from here to there as smoothly as possible. You know where your business is now, and you have an idea of where you want it to be. What you now need to create is a series of steps, or a similar structure, that makes that transition happen without unwanted side-effects.
The aim of change management is to avoid ad hoc and reactive decision-making from your management process. If you are only implementing change as a response to a problem, you could find yourself backed into a corner with limited options. So you need to find ways to maximise your options and to be as proactive as possible.
Why might you need to change?
There are a lot of reasons why business change may be needed. Perhaps your market is developing fast, or there is a dangerous new competitor. You might need to cut costs or increase productivity, or you might just want to introduce flexible working. Usually, business change will relate to increasing competitiveness, creating a better working environment or responding to external pressures.
Some common changes that businesses make include:
- Implementing new computer systems or technology throughout the company
- Tweaking or adapting an established working practice
- Changing your workflow or hierarchy of responsibility
- Introducing flexible working
- Trying to introduce a new product range or service
- Entering a new market
- Moving parts of your business online
- Reducing waste
Potential obstacles to business change
If your workforce, shareholders or customers don’t buy into the change you want to implement, the process could be a rocky one. Some of the biggest obstacles that companies encounter when trying to change are:
- Lack of support from influential people throughout the organisation
- Not dedicating enough resources or manpower to the project
- Having a working culture that is resistant to change
- Lack of support for the solution you have chosen to solve your issues
Sometimes problems can arise because you’re not clear enough about what you want to achieve, or how you will do it. Always ensure at every step that your employees know why the business is doing things differently, and encourage them to ask if they don’t understand.
Preparing to manage organisational change
An important first step is to lay the groundwork properly. Make sure the right resources are in place, and give plenty of thought to those who may be on the front line of the business changes: your employees and your customers.
Ensure that everyone in your company understands what changes you are making and why you want to make them. Notify your people well in advance and get them enthused, so that by the time you implement the process people are looking forward to it and fully onside.
If you are making changes that will affect the end product or service you provide to customers, tell them about what you are planning. Give them a clear picture with relevant details, as any indication that you are withholding information could harm your brand. Emphasise the positives in every case, to reassure people that any temporary disruption will be justified by the improvements you’re making.
Preparing for the unexpected
Another key part of change management is recognising that things won’t always go to plan. Keep a close eye on what is happening so you can manage unexpected developments, communicate them swiftly and adapt. Sticking to your script too rigidly will be counterproductive if it doesn’t match what’s happening in the real world. Being more responsive will mean you can deal with problems effectively and also grasp unexpected opportunities if they arise.
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