Successful businesses change, adapt, and iterate. This is especially true for small organizations as they grow from an idea to developing products and services to becoming a thriving business. Change is a constant, and how quickly a company can manage the complexity of change may be the differentiator between relevance or irrelevance in the marketplace. 

Operating a business can be frenzied and chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be if you can manage change effectively. Navigating ultimately comes down to having the right mindset and a sound communication strategy to get everyone on the same page. This is where effective change management comes into play, focusing on methods and strategies to help employees accept, understand, and embrace the evolution of your business.

To many folks, change is a whole heap of uncertainty. The pandemic and a faltering economy created uncertainty for many small businesses. No one can know or predict if or when things will return to “normal,” or what the future holds—and that makes it difficult to plan for the future and make long-term investments.

These challenges don’t have to be so daunting for small businesses and there are steps they can take to mitigate them. Small businesses that are agile and flexible are better able to weather the environment and emerge stronger on the other side. Below are eight things you can do to manage change successfully for your company.

1. Start with the vision

A common mistake leaders make is attempting to initiate a change before establishing a clear vision and a thoughtful implementation plan. Absent the vision, it’s difficult to get everyone aligned to take action because they simply can’t see it. The vision should explain the current state of business, where it’s trying to go, and most importantly: people want to know what’s in it for them and how they’ll be impacted. 

Change can be uncomfortable and disruptive, but it can also bring opportunities and positive outcomes. When sharing the vision, be sure to include the rationale, supported by compelling data and storytelling to crystallize the purpose and direction of the change. Hone in on the benefits to the business and employees. By doing this, you will create the path of least resistance. By focusing on the benefits of the change and the how, you can help your employees and your business grow.

2. Define the optimal order of communication

The effectiveness of an organizational change process often hinges on the initial recipients of your message. As a business owner, it is important to get that early buy-in and input about the plan and vision from key stakeholders. Leaders should establish strategic alignment and facilitate its dissemination throughout the organization.

In addition to gaining buy-in, this approach allows for alignment and the extraction of valuable insights that can shape the messaging. Early buy-in aids in minimizing avoidable errors and unintended repercussions down the line, such as diminishing employee morale or a loss of leadership credibility.

3. Manage expectations 

Managing expectations is a critical aspect of change management. Often, plans are rolled out without leadership providing a clear understanding of what will happen next. Depending on the complexity and magnitude of the change, it’s essential to communicate realistic expectations. Leaders should be transparent and honest about what will and won’t happen, including specifics about when, why, and what to expect. Avoid sugarcoating or vague messaging and remember that different audiences may require different levels of information, so it’s important to tailor the message to each group. As always, encourage feedback and questions to be sure that team members feel heard and aligned. 

4. Reinforce communication

Complex organizational changes often require repeated messaging across multiple channels. It’s unrealistic to expect all audiences to absorb the message on the first attempt. Leaders should utilize various communication channels such as videos, emails, town halls, and newsletters to reinforce the message. The goal is to ensure that those impacted understand the message and its implications, and encourage them to take necessary actions.

Where possible and appropriate, engage employees in the change processes; communication need not be a one-way street. Involving employees can help them feel valued and engaged, and take ownership of the changes. It can also lead to better decision-making and more effective implementation. Seek input from employees, particularly as it relates to the impact on their roles. Encourage them to come up with ideas and solutions that can help the business adapt to the change. By doing so, you tap into their expertise and build buy-in.

5. Set clear goals and expectations

Let people know what success looks like, including how success is measured and progression milestones.  When you communicate goals and expectations, ensure that everyone understands their role in achieving them. This will help employees stay focused and motivated.

6. Offer training and support

Change often requires new skills and knowledge. Identify the skills and education needed and provide training, coaching, and mentoring that will help employees to be successful. Provide ongoing support to ensure that employees are comfortable with the new processes and procedures. Investing in your employees will help ensure that the changes are productive and sustainable.

7. Celebrate successes

Change can be difficult and challenging, but it can also be an opportunity for growth and development. Recognize and reward employees, and celebrate successes along the way—even the small victories. This will help build morale, increase motivation, and reinforce the importance of the changes implemented.

8. Evaluate and adjust

Finally, it is essential to evaluate the changes and adjust as needed. Monitor the progress towards the goals and objectives you set and assess whether the changes have achieved the desired results. Solicit feedback from employees and stakeholders and use it to identify areas for improvement. Be willing to adjust the change strategy to ensure that it is effective and sustainable.

The takeaway

Managing change can be challenging, but with the right approach, it can be an opportunity for growth and development. By approaching change with a well-defined vision, engaging stakeholders, managing expectations, choosing effective messengers, and reinforcing communication, organizations can navigate change more effectively and achieve successful outcomes.

Bernard Coleman Bernard is the Chief Diversity and Engagement Officer at Gusto where he leads diversity, equity and inclusion, and employee relations as well as people integrity, governance, and compliance efforts.
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