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How to avoid failure in managing change in your business

By Stephen Cowburn

Picture this scenario.

You have grown your business to a particular point and now the numbers aren’t growing as fast as you would like. Furthermore, the relationships you have with your key people are changing – they seem more focused on what happened in the past, their focus is changing from the business to them, they are starting to question you more openly and perhaps in not an entirely constructive way.

Change changing work job life changes concept vision

Change is needed.

What is involved?

There are essentially two aspects to this mirroring the two hemispheres of the brain – the rational and the emotional.

The rational

This is often the easier side of the brain for most MDs to relate to as this involves data and logical thinking. In the context of change, the MD knows what s/he has to achieve, the problems with the existing systems and people, and the new set of skills and capabilities needed for the future. Essentially it is a form of gap analysis. What do you as MD need for the future? What is the gap? How does the MD reduce the gap? Usually the start point for the rational conversation is – what needs to change? Then, how do l get them to change?

The emotional

This is often the more difficult aspect, with the MD feeling guilty because s/he feels disloyal to the people who have taken the business to this stage. They are dreading having the conversation and start thinking about incentives to change or sugar coating messages to soften the blow. This is about having clear messages, being direct and coming from the perspective of what the business now needs rather than dwelling on the relationship that currently exists. This is not to say that there should be no empathy, yet it is saying be clear on what needs to happen and above all why and, where necessary tailoring the message to the person. Usually the start point to this part of the conversation is – how do l tell people that they need to change without appearing to be unfair? This is as much about you the MD as it is about the team or individual.

The timescale for change

Once an MD has made the decision to implement change, they then typically ask how long is it going to take to make the change happen. There are typically two phases – the gaining acceptance of the need to change and then implementing the change. The gaining acceptance piece typically takes 4 – 8 weeks. The implementation of the change then takes up to 3 months to make happen and typically much longer as the scale of change increases.

Project plan with pen

The gaining acceptance of change requires two things – a clear business case and patience. The business case needs to be rock solid – data outlining the reasons for change, time to absorb the messages, the opportunity to ask questions and time to get agreement. Patience is required because people will not hear the messages the first time as their concern will be on the impact of change on them. Having first given an overview message about the nature of the change, individual meetings will then need to happen to explain again and to discuss the impact to the individual and address questions they will have on what it means for them. Regular meetings pushing forward the agenda, repeating messages and building up the story and addressing the personal impact will be required.

The speed of implementation depends on five things – everyone being on the same page, clear milestones and outcomes, delegated responsibility, scheduled sessions to review and learn, coaching/mentoring – in other words good project management. Usually the outcome is dealing with different/better outcomes with greater efficiency. Outcomes need to be identified for the next quarter and plans put in place on what needs to change with specific short-term targets. Progress – and contribution – needs to be regularly communicated.

Stephen has been involved in a range of change projects from building the case for organisational change, setting up short term outcomes and timelines, and monitoring progress, re-setting objectives. He also works with individuals going through change, willingly or not. If you are interested in finding out more, then download our managing change checklist here, or for a more personal chat on your specific circumstances, contact Stephen Cowburn on 07974 425 361 or via for a confidential discussion.

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