5 Strategies For Successfully Navigating Change
In business, change can appear in the form of new competition, disruptive market forces, and economic shifts. Our adaptability has always ensured the survival of our companies.
These days, though, with the acceleration of technology, the speed of change has increased exponentially. If businesses aren’t ready to adapt — and adapt quickly — they can be left behind, become critically exposed, or worse, put out of business.
So how can we plan for this new kind of change, the change that comes at us at breakneck speed, with the potential to disrupt or derail our industries?
1. Set a Long-Term Plan
I recently had a conversation with a client. He said, “Chad, I don’t want to set a long-term plan, because it’s just gonna change anyway.” While I understood the sentiment, I had to correct him. “You have to set a plan. Your plan is the baseline for your business.”
Just because we know we’re going to be managing change does not mean we get to abdicate our responsibility to set a plan for the business. Imagine a ship captain forgoing all efforts to plot a course to his destination, simply because he knew he’d eventually be sailing rough seas.
We have to chart a course based on what we know. Using objective data, we can measure our progress as we sail onward. Then, when storms blow us off course, we’ll have a better understanding of how to shift and adapt to get back on track.
2. Have a Contingency Plan
I need not remind owners of the financial crash of 2008, or more recently, the recessionary period we had just a few years back. To prepare for times like these, leaders should have contingency planning in place for negative outcomes. This includes plotting discretionary budgets, and understanding which “planned spends” are nice-to-haves, not gotta-haves. And always prepare for the worst case scenario — a reduction of force.
Conversely, if you’re in a dynamic marketplace, what happens if the market takes off? Will you be satisfied with your original goals if the market you’re in grows by 20 percent? Probably not! You might have an opportunity to make an acquisition, to make some key hires, or pay off a line of credit. And so, you’ll want to have a contingency plan in place for positive outcomes so you can adjust your strategy as needed.
3. Conduct Market Research
To truly be effective at navigating change, you need to see it coming. How often are you in exploration, learning about your industry? For many business owners, the answer is, “Rarely, if ever.” It’s time to change that: take the time to engage in regular market research, both primary and secondary.
Primary research, for example, is gathering predictions about the current state and direction of your industry or market directly from primary resources: a fellow company owner, industry expert, or subject matter expert. Secondary research means gathering information from magazines, publications, and trade data. This is informed data from other expert sources and other markets which can inform changes that you could or should make.
4. Find Peer Learning Opportunities
One of the most effective ways to navigate change successfully is to put yourself in a peer dynamic. That means regularly sitting around a table with six to eight fellow owners, COOs, or GMs.
In peer groups, you’ll be exposed to best practice, different ways of thinking, and new processes and operations of different industries. Manufacturing company owners can glean new ideas from how an IT firm works, and vice versa. Different perspectives can inform your thinking, and you’ll easily adopt changes that can help the performance of your business.
5. Leverage Technology
As birth rates continue to drop and baby boomers retire in droves, labor is going to be an ongoing challenge. Consider adopting a hybrid or remote work model to put yourself in a more competitive position for talent in the marketplace.
On another note, business owners have their eyes looking excitedly and warily at Artificial Intelligence. We’re only beginning to see the potential AI has in terms of sales and marketing efforts, product development, training, and more. AI has the potential to be a big disruptor of markets, like digital in and of itself was, once upon a time. All business owners should be aware of AI and see it as an opportunity — remember, it only becomes a threat to our business if we choose to ignore it.
Lessons in Change Management 101
Help Your Team Adapt and Adjust. Always communicate changes clearly to your team, and that includes communicating why the change is being made. Tell them what’s in it for the company, and more importantly, what’s in it for them, whether it’s job security, streamlined workflows, or increased revenue for future raises.
Time Management is Key. Oftentimes, owners are so wrapped up “in” the business that they don’t have time to work “on” the business. You’re going to need to rise to the challenge of time management if you’re going to plan and prepare for change. (You can’t conduct market research or contingency planning if you’re both the owner of the sausage company and the Chief Sausage Maker!)
Talk About Change As Opportunity. It’s important to make change planning a part of your regular communication, but it shouldn’t always be, “What are the risks? Where are the threats?” It’s important that you talk about future change as if you’re answering the question, “What’s the next big thing?” This simple change in perspective can take something potentially frightening and turn it into something inspiring.
It’s true, the world is evolving at a much faster pace than any of us are used to, but don’t allow fear or denial of change to limit your growth. It’s a lot easier to adjust and adapt to change that we can see coming, so take the necessary steps to prepare. You don’t have to love change, but you will need to embrace it — it’s an inevitable part of being a business owner and entrepreneur.
Many owners who feel ill-equipped to handle change are simply too enmeshed “in” the business, and find it difficult to take a step back. If you need guidance on how to find a wider perspective so you can work “on” the business, give us a call or send us an email to set up a free consultation to talk about your organization’s strategy for navigating change.