If you run a business, you’ve probably heard the saying, “If you’re not moving forwards, you’re actually moving backwards…”
This may be an old saying, but it’s never been truer than it is today.
Today’s fast paced internet driven world puts enormous pressure on a businesses to evolve… but evolution means change and as we all know, people tend to resist change, particularly employees, who by their nature are risk averse and like the certainty of a pay check.
So, as a business owner, how do you get employees to embrace change, so you can respond to the pressures of an evolving market place?
For ten years of my professional life I was a Change CEO Specialist working for some of the world’s biggest consulting firms. My day-to-day job was to parachute into ailing companies and quickly get to the bottom of why they were failing, then fix the situation, and if this wasn’t possible, close them down.
As you can probably imagine, this was a period of intense learning for me, as I was constantly working at the coalface of businesses that were operating under extreme pressure. Under these conditions, I was required to constantly change the culture of the business, often in the face or resentment and resistance from staff.
During this time I found four key elements, four pillars if you like, that enabled me to consistently win over staff and facilitate positive, lasting change within a businesses , and in this article I’m going to share these four elements.
These elements are:
The ability to ask the hard questions
The ability to identify and articulate a vision for change
The ability to create a simple, workable plan
The ability to live and model that vision, in action.
1. Ask the hard questions.
In my experience as a Change CEO, I’ve found that asking the hard questions is one of the keys to successfully steering an enterprise. But this is much easier said than done because as business owners and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to succumb to viewing our business through rose colored glasses, and in doing so, neglect to truthfully recognize where our business is really at.
Identifying where your businesses is at, (Point A if you like) is only achieved by having the courage to ask — and truthfully answer — difficult questions about your market and your business strategy; and then map them out, so you can truly track and see how well you are progressing towards achieving them.
With regard to doing that, here’s my suggestion. Pull on your thickest skin, find someone to help you identify the tough question and don’t let your vanity get in the way of the detached introspection that’s required, because it truly may be the difference between the success you hope for and the failure you dread!
2. Articulate your vision for change.
Okay. Now that you’ve asked yourself the hard questions, you’re in a position to determine the specifics of your ‘change vision’ (your ‘Point B’ if you like), and the reasons you need to embrace change. But how do you bring along all the people you need on side to make the changes stick.
If there is an absolute secret to attaining lasting change within a business, here it is! Make sure you have an ability to articulate your deep-and-heart-centered-reason-for-change and the specific reasons why you, your company and your staff need to embrace it!
I can’t stress how important this is, it’s absolutely imperative. If you don’t have a critical reason for change and you can’t articulate the specific details for your reasoning, your vision for change is simply a desire for change, and you will have a hard time getting it embraced to the point where it will stick.
To move a business, you must move its people, and as we all know, people naturally resist change! That’s why you must find leaders within the business that understand the urgency of the situation and share your enthusiasm for change, because if you fail to do this, your change initiatives will fall flat and lasting meaningful change will never happen!
Regarding the task of identifying your leaders, here’s my tip. Acknowledge the kinds of personnel you need to drive your change vision and take the time to recognize specifically who these people may be, and what it is about your vision that might captivate and motivate them. Then create a narrative that you can deliver, one that they can relate to, buy into and articulate themselves.
3. Create a simple change plan.
Having clarified your ‘why change is needed’ narrative, you now need to allot uninterrupted thinking time into distinguishing the vital components of your ‘how,’ in other words; you need to create a simple plan of action.
My suggestion – try to incorporate your team leaders into this process, because if they feel involved in creating the plan, they are much more likely to enthusiastically embrace and execute it. They will also be a good source of suggestions.
In formulating the plan make sure you:
Identify the repeatable tasks that will achieve your aim (and keep them simple).
Identify both the resources you have readily available as well as the resources you will need, and list them.
Identify the finite selection of things that can block your progress, list them and create backup plans for those that are truly high-risk.
4. Model the vision for yourself.
With a plan formulated and your team of leaders recruited, it’s time to execute the plan, and that means living the vision yourself.
Keeping on track and accomplishing positive and lasting transformation is 99% leadership and a 1% management, a mix of fuel, context and accountability. The fuel aspect here is PR. Your narrative needs to express your intention, enable the vital elements of the change you are driving, and then fuel and maintain the momentum required to get the changes up and running.
As the leader it’s important to understand that the code of conduct or ‘the context’ you develop around your leadership group, and the behavior they exhibit when driving you change vision, will be decisive. This is critical. Your change leaders and their staff will look to you to live by this code of conduct at all times.
To model the vision yourself remember to:
Follow the message you preach and connect with your team in an authentic way when delivering it,
Communicate your vision as clearly as possible. Create a simple narrative that can be easily articulated,
Identify, create and teach simple, repeatable steps that, when consistently applied, will result in the changes required,
Celebrate successes… this fuels your momentum and
Train your ‘change leaders’ to do the same.
This reinforces that the vision is bona-fide and that the group’s approach is the correct one. Also remember…your ability to produce and cultivate a solid context is directly proportional to your capability to do these things yourself. This creates a strong cultural context for change, and if you can pull this off, my experience is that your group will self manage; self align and move mountains; making the changes you seek inevitable.
Finally, remember the importance of being earnest
This article covers a lot of ground, and it certainly is easier to read than do. Change is challenging, both for you as a leader, your organization, it’s people and the structures that you rely on to manage desired outcomes.
So here’s my final tip.
Take a deep breath and be prepared to be human, to acknowledge shortcomings and to be open to change yourself. You will be valued and then followed as a leader in a far more powerful way when you have the courage to be truly authentic.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Stuart Hayes is a change CEO and the founder of Stuart Hayes Leadership, a coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy in Melbourne, Australia. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Economics, Finance and Accounting from Monash University, is a CPA and an accredited Associate of the Institute of Independent Business International and a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Connect with @StuartHayesLead on Twitter.