One thing doesn’t change: small businesses are in a constant state of change. As markets change, expertise is gained, and competition heats up, small business leaders must be continuous change agents. As their organizations grow more complex, these leaders often experience challenges implementing what seem like simple ideas.
Our global study of 907 corporate change leaders in November found that there are five top areas leaders must address if change is to mean change for the better.
1. Build Trust - Leaders today are starting at a disadvantage. Close to 78 percent of employees we surveyed in the U.S. said that employees in their companies are skeptical of any changes. Effective change leadership requires employees to take risks, try new things, and fail sometimes. If they don’t trust you, they won’t do what it takes. Build trust by being honest about why the changes are happening, keeping commitments, and apologizing openly for mistakes you make. This is the foundation of change success.
2. Focus. Our research found 81 percent of respondents globally said they said 'yes' to change, but don't really mean it. They are overwhelmed with the amount change (Almost 61 percent said they are involved in more than three changes). To please their boss, they just say “Yes,” but can’t or won’t follow through. Don’t waste your time with unimportant changes. Focus on the changes that really matter. Communicate priorities, hold people accountable and follow through if you want yes to mean yes.
3. Help employees be flexible. Slightly over 52 percent of professionals globally said that employees in their companies and countries are flexible to change. Our post survey interviews showed us that employees may appear inflexible to leaders who want fast change. However, when leaders explain why changes are important, the cost of not changing, and support success with tools and guidance, most employees will change.
4. Make it personal. A little over 43 percent of Americans polled said their leaders speak one-on-one about the changes. This is very good news, considering the time it takes to do this. It is also good news in light of our research last year on employee morale during change. We found that whether someone was learning to walk after a crippling accident, or a leader needs to get a team of negative people collaborating, they need to create a very strong personal motivator. The reason for change has to be tailored to the personal and emotional needs of each employee. This cannot be done through an email or large meeting. It must be handled with the time, energy and creativity of personal communication. The personal touch goes a long way to building trust, commitment and results.
5. Keep it social. When asked if they have used social media effectively to implement change, 35.3 percent said yes. Do you have a Facebook or LinkedIn page? If you do, keep using it. If not, don’t worry. The power of social media is that it helps people be the social beings that they are. Most of us want to know what others are experiencing and are able to share that point of view. As your organization grows beyond small cadre who started it, you need to find ways to keep people connected. One growing software company instituted a monthly Thursday night gathering to stay in touch. Another used a blog to let all the people against the changes to suggest better ideas. Don’t worry about the method – just remember to keep people connected.
If your business is experiencing the problems of growing, shrinking, merging or refocusing, remember these five tips to build a strong culture so your changes will be stick.
Lawrence helps executive teams, from mid-size and large multi-national firms, navigate change. He is Managing Partner of PeopleNRG, a Princeton, NJ based leadership consulting firm and has traveled the world training and advising leaders since 1999. Lawrence is co-author of Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change (McGraw-Hill), Say YES! To Change: 27 Strategies for Motivating Yourself and Your Team and the soon to be released Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution (McGraw-Hill).