Change your business or it will die.
That’s a pretty dramatic statement, and it carries a serious truth. For your business to be sustainable, it has to change.
Incrementally, as you adjust to small shifts like the changing needs of your customers for a new product or service.
Significantly, when your customers and the larger world changes. More players may be moving into your market. Even business itself is changing. The profit economy is no longer the way forward, as even Fortune 500 companies fall by the wayside at a rapidly increasing rate. We are now in the impact economy, where companies that focus on the well-being of every stakeholder thrive and flourish.
Significant change can also become necessary when you’ve put off those incremental changes so that it’s now urgent. That’s not a position you want to be in, putting off change until it’s do or die. Wouldn’t you rather have change be your decision? Let’s do this more gently.
So let’s look at ways you can work change like a boss, like the leader you are.
1. Connect to your essentials, to your impact. What impact do you want to have in the world, whether it’s your immediate world within your company, your community, or globally? And second, since business is always part of life and not the other way around, what impact do you want your business to have? These core questions will guide you as you implement change in your business.
2. Inspire your team to be active contributors. You won’t be able to reach the promised land all alone. You need your team to help you, whether it’s your employees (in-house or virtual) who’ll be deeply involved in the day-to-day work of this change, your suppliers, who can be valuable partners in coming up with creative ways to make the change easier, or your support team, a consultant or coach. Gain their understanding and ultimately their commitment. If you do, you’ll have collaborators in the challenges and rewards of this process.
3. Communicate what you want to accomplish. Side 1: your team. I once worked in a company going through a big change, and senior leaders took the stance that employees would only be told what they needed to know. The problem was, we found out anyway. And not hearing it from people leading the change made us feel not trusted to be adults and not seen as sources of creativity and encouragement. The secrecy led to the loss of some very good people, and dissatisfaction among many of us. Not a good situation in which to carry out major change.
Instead, share what you know. Articulate your vision. People, the human side, of things have to be considered. Trust and inspire people to do the grown-up, constructive things. You’ll need them.
The flip side of communication is outside of your company. Your customers may be bewildered by what is going on. Where is the company I’ve relied on for so long? What’s happening? For those customers, it’s critical to communicate your vision for where the company is going, and how they’re going to benefit, when that’s appropriate.
If you’re making a shift in focus that means they will no longer have access to products or services they want, then it’s only decent (and smart) to let them know, and why. Help them find an alternative if you can. Leave them feeling that they have dealt with a great company, one with integrity and their best interests at heart.
For prospective customers, the more clearly you articulate where the company is going, the more likely you’ll bring them on. People want to know what they’re buying into.
4. Ask for help. If your team needs help, if you need help, ask for it. Who in your great circle of connection could be brought in to support and assist you? What additional staff are needed to complete this part of the change you’re undertaking?
If you need additional revenue to complete the next part of the change, ask for ideas. Help comes in many forms, so being open to how it looks is so beneficial.
5. Understand the change cycle. Change isn’t a linear path. The better you understand what to expect, the easier it will be for you to accept what is happening and to lead. One way to look at change is the 4-square process described by sociologist and best-selling author Martha Beck:
- Death and rebirth (literally, Square One – the beginning of your company’s new life)
- Dreaming and scheming (new ideas and opportunities you couldn’t have seen before you started this change)
- The hero’s saga (the pragmatic nuts-and-bolts of trial and error as you navigate the new landscape)
- The promised land (tweaking, minor adjustments, tending the new order).
6. Be willing. Resistance to change shows up in many forms. As leaders, we can be tempted to put up a solid wall of ‘knowing’. As in, ‘I know what we need to do’. That front can be valuable, like all things, when used appropriately, and other times, not so much. During times of change, you’re challenged in all kinds of ways. In your way of thinking, in your ways of doing things. Be willing to let others challenge the way you are moving forward. Instead of dismissing what’s possible so you can be right, accept what’s being offered to you so you can grow.
Be willing to have full discussions of possible alternatives. Change can be very uncomfortable. It’s too easy to rush in and make quick choices. Do what you can to make this change a success: consider your options before taking action.
7. Keep your vision foremost. Put the promised land of your changed business in front of you every day. You’re going to need it: to guide you, to help you through obstacles and challenging times, and to be able to communicate where you’re going to others. Have a clear statement that encapsulates it, so you have that shining light before you.
8. Lead by example. Along with changes in your business, you have to change too. The CEO you are now is not the one you’ll be at the end of these changes. You’ll have to adjust, grow, and become who you need to be to lead your renewed and revitalized business.
When faced with the challenges of change, here’s a question to ask yourself: if this were to last forever, what quality would I have to bring forward? That can help you call up those qualities that will help you the most.
Your team will have to shift, change, and grow too, and your example will inspire and guide them.
9. Get real. Be realistic about how much can be accomplished in the changes you’re making while still operating the business day-t0-day. That doesn’t mean you can’t push the edges and ask for inspired action when it’s needed.
Be realistic about the team you have. Are they the people you’ll need during and after this change? Some may not be.
Be realistic about costs and resources. Stay on top of your cash flow and finances, so you understand what is happening daily, or at most, weekly. Ask if you have enough people and tools to do what you have in mind.
10. Mourn your losses. Your company is changing, and that means the death of it as it used to be. The people you cared about may leave. That can feel sad. It’s only human to mourn the loss of something that was important to you.
Acknowledging and feeling your grief for the ‘good old days’ is a good way forward, not tucking it away. Feelings have a way of popping up like a whack-a-mole. You stuff them down, and they bound right back up some place else, sometimes where you least expect or want them.
That said, pain is an inside job and depends on what you believe. Before you go down a rabbit hole, take care to put your losses into perspective. Know that they are inevitable during change. Ask the question of whether you would have done anything differently, decide what you’ve learned, and move on.
Change isn’t simple or easy for any of us, or for your business. It’s messy, and it’s complicated. Few things turn out exactly right the first time around.
Yet it’s essential, and can be very rewarding, both financially and personally for you and everyone connected with your company.
Your job is to lead change, not just manage it. How you navigate it makes a big difference: between success and failure every step of the way, and in the impact you’re going to have.
The promised land awaits, with more impact than ever.