A Small Business Guide to Change Management

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Change management is a vital part of running a business, as it can guide you through difficult transitions. This guide will help you understand what it is and how to implement it.

Implementing change is not easy in the business world. Even with a small business, you have a lot of moving parts -- not to mention employees who get nervous about any big changes or shifts.

Managing change is one of those HR best practices that people don’t talk about that much, but is extremely important for any business looking to make a big move -- whether that’s shifting into a new market or overhauling organizational structure to ensure the long-term health of the company.

People often complain that change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. If you draft a strong plan and execute it properly, your business can reap all the benefits while keeping the negatives to a minimum. Here’s what change management is all about, and how to implement it in your business.

Overview: What is change management?

The change management process involves preparing individuals and organizations for organizational changes, which may include the adoption of new technology, changes in market demand, responses to competition, business succession planning, and mergers, as examples.

It’s one of the core management principles that covers how to prepare everyone for major changes in an organization, which is a key part of strategic human resource management. The process helps institutions reach long-term aims and objectives with minimal disruption to the organization’s personnel and operations.

3 steps of the change management process

You will encounter multiple change management models, but generally, they involve the same three steps.

1. Communicate change to employees

Preparation is the first step, which involves communicating with employees the importance of the change and discussing any benefits the change would bring. The purpose is to cultivate buy-in from team members and to address any culture changes that might result. Changes of this magnitude often lead to logistical issues, and the preparation process aims to deal with that too.

2. Cultivate a plan

Once everyone is prepared to undertake the organizational change, you must create a plan to ensure everything goes smoothly, maximizing the benefits of the transition while minimizing the negative impacts.

The project manager develops goals in line with the changes and establishes tangible success metrics. Next, they assign duties and responsibilities to managers and workers. They frame the change within the proper scope and incorporate feedback from team members.

3. Implement the change

With everyone prepared and plans in place, the final step is implementation. The project manager follows the framework and steps outlined in the plan, empowering employees to take ownership of their individual responsibilities.

The manager maintains high levels of accountability to ensure everyone executes in their assigned roles, tracking the progress of the transition and long-term adherence to the plan. They evaluate the results and tweak as necessary.

How to implement change management in your small business

If you’ve been contemplating change strategies in your small business, you may wonder what change management techniques are necessary to get the ball rolling. Here are a few steps to ensure you execute the process successfully.

1. Understand why the change is needed

The first step is to understand why you are making this major transition. What benefits does your organization expect as a result of this change? Do the benefits outweigh the downsides and disruption of the transition? It’s critical to communicate the rationale to employees, because if they don’t buy in, they may not execute their roles properly. You must justify the financial and time investment to them.

Quick tip: Use a whiteboard to compare the benefits of change to the downsides. Once you’ve drawn up a quick “pros and cons” list, compare the two. Do the benefits easily outweigh the negatives?

Then you can charge ahead with confidence. But if it’s pretty close, ask yourself if this is really something you should undertake -- particularly since obstacles often crop up midway that will further reduce the gap between benefits and drawbacks.

2. Plan effectively

Even if you’ve properly communicated the purpose of the transition, have a well-thought-out change management plan to show to anyone who is skeptical that you can actually accomplish this in the way you envision.

Without a strong plan, change is impossible. Understand the resources you’ll need in terms of capital and talent, delegate authority intelligently, ensure flexibility throughout the process, and be ready to respond to any obstacles that crop up.

Quick tip: Use specific metrics and dates for your plan rather than vague goals. Set a start and end date for the transition, as well as a set number of resources. Use hard numbers to define your goals -- and give yourself some wiggle room in case your calculations are off.

3. Communicate (it's essential)

Communication is vital throughout the entire process. Use strategies and tactics to get everyone on board, then keep them in the loop as you execute the change. Oversee processes and motivate employees throughout, and get feedback from the team during the transition. Be flexible enough to adjust based on the feedback you get.

Quick tip: Establish a communication plan and method. For example, you may use an app to share status reports on a daily basis with your team. Or you could schedule weekly meetings if daily updates are overkill. Talk with your team about the communication level they'd prefer.

4. Assess risks

While it’s impossible to predict everything, you should have a good idea of potential roadblocks you may experience along the way. Communicate to the team the importance of risk analysis throughout the transition, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments as necessary.

Involving your team heavily in the process rather than trying to do everything on your own is an important part of maintaining a healthy organizational culture anyway, and it will pay dividends long after the change is complete.

Quick tip: Brainstorm with your team to get ideas for other potential obstacles, and then draw up a “Plan B” for each scenario to keep the change on track. That way, if you run into a problem, you and your team will know exactly what to do rather than be forced to scramble to get back on track.

5. Use HR software

Implementing a change management plan isn’t easy using spreadsheets or other simple tools, so use HR software to help you navigate this sometimes complicated process. HR technology has advanced a lot in recent years, and it will help you draft plans and manage employees as you make this shift.

Quick tip: Every organization is different, so you shouldn’t just choose the most popular HR software option. Check out a few software reviews and give the most promising options a test run before making a selection.

Remember, the change management process is about people

People react to change differently, so be aware of the fact that you will have to manage personalities and make frequent adjustments throughout this transition.

That's why communication is so vital. When an organization is changing and people feel out of the loop, they get uncomfortable. It's a natural response. So communicate often and solicit feedback, making it feel like a conversation and showing that you consider your employees' contributions important.

Acknowledge their feelings throughout this process. Be transparent with them and have them help with the problem-solving. Be flexible enough to make changes to the plan based on what they say. Continually highlight the benefits everyone will enjoy as a result of seeing this transition through.

Remember, change management is more than just drawing up a plan and executing -- it's about managing human beings. So place a bigger priority on empathy than efficiency. In the end, your employees will be more loyal to you and happier in their jobs.

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