Change Management and Small Business

Jul 23, 2020

Change management is one of the most commonly used terms in management jargon today. Even laypeople will probably nod familiarly at the mention of it; but how many people truly know what it means? Not as many as one would think.

When I talk to small business owners about change management, they will say knowingly

“Well, it’s about managing changes in business, right?”

Well yeah, but there’s a lot more to that simple sounding sentence than most can imagine. It’s a paradigm in itself – it involves attitudes, processes, systems, assessments, beliefs, decisions, communications, timing…

The parallel I like to give people is that of project management. Project management (PM) is the technical side – on time, on budget. Change management (CM) is ensuring each individual involved in the change, either directly or indirectly, has the information, guidance, and support to excel in the version of life before, during, and after the project roll out – I end up losing most people there. So, let me elaborate.

I spent years with Prosci, the world leader in change management research, training, and consulting. There I helped deliver change management courses to big businesses across the United States. I spent week-in and week-out teaching and dining with top executives, working and retired, from major corporates such as Ford Motor Company, US Air Force, Nike, and US Bank, to name a few. It gave me an opportunity not just to impart training but also to learn from those who have been in major leadership positions in unbeatable organizations.

I discovered a common thread among many of the companies that we were asked to train and consult at. The old guard in these companies had been built on top-down leadership – following orders was a way of life. People joined these companies, grew up following orders, some of them attaining levels where they could also give orders, and retired from their jobs having put in 30-40 years with the same company.

Somewhere along the line, things began to change; and then came the millennials who discovered that they wanted more than just a steady job to support their family until they retired. Not that managing change (the people side of projects) wasn’t a thing before; however, over the last 10-20 years, the discipline has become an absolute necessity in the majority of all company projects, and even a mandate in state government projects in Georgia (Accountability, Change Management and Process Improvement Act of 2016)

Read more about this here: Georgia: One of the First U.S. States to Require Change Management

So, what was it that brought change management to the forefront?

First, the ever-increasing pace of change in the business environment. With rapid developments, the old follow-the-orders culture didn’t work anymore. Employees needed to be dynamic, they needed to be proactive, and they needed to be empowered. And second, as organizational culture changed from the old order to the new, managing people in the whole process of change became a vital part of managing the change itself.

Employees needed to be dynamic, they needed to be proactive, and they needed to be empowered

If people within the organization did not believe in the change they were being asked to implement, if they weren’t properly aligned with the organization’s vision, if they didn’t want to be a part of the change, any change program would fall flat.

On the other hand, if people were co-opted into the process, made to understand their roles, given the tools to achieve their objectives, and supported by the right systems, the change could be achieved far more effectively and painlessly. Prosci found with over 20 years of research that if change management is carried out properly, the success of any project went up 6x!

What I realized over years of working in the field was that if these large corporations had been built on the foundation of proper change management with a culture of change advocates, the major problems they ran into when they started growing and taking on more and more employees, would have been nearly non-existent!!

This sparked my final entrepreneurial venture. I wanted to take what I had learned, and the information I had gathered for years over dinners picking the brains of major players in Fortune 500 companies, helping many other companies overcome very similar problems; and carry those learnings to the small businesses in my community.

I wanted to make sure they were armed with the knowledge and ability to be ahead in this game of change, to ingrain it into their business culture from the very beginning.

Early this year, COVID-19 hit the world.

Nobody could have seen it coming; but come it did – and along with the social cost, brought with it very painful changes for many businesses. Those businesses that I had been working with for at least 6 months prior to the pandemic were ready and prepared to take on the change. Their ways were not set in stone, and they took the adversity as it came, day by day. They are emerging on the other side stronger than ever.
What I have been able to do is to bring into play my collective learnings together to help make these companies change-ready.

That is what has enabled me to set these businesses up for success even in these challenging times. I normally try to help my clients facilitate incremental change, step by step, towards their desired future state; but sometimes the world throws a major curveball that requires radical change capabilities. And if an organization is receptive to change and willing to participate, it can adapt itself to the changing realities faster than its competitors.

The moral of the story here is that change management is an essential skill in today’s world, and it can be learned. Whether one is running a business, a community, or a political office, change management is an integral part of leadership.

Good leadership requires good change management.

Read more about this here Change Leadership.