“Change before you have to”. So said famed business leader, Jack Welch. It’s a sentiment you might agree with – after all, it’s only by introducing new ideas and processes that SMEs can move apart from their competitors and thrive.
However, managing change in the workplace doesn’t come easy. Large organisations have entire teams dedicated to the discipline. And city consultancies charge eye-watering fees to other companies keen to buy their knowledge around transformation and change management.
This can leave SME owners feeling somewhat under-resourced. How can small businesses hope to implement change with the same level of skill as a dedicated change management team?
The good news is that managing change in the workplace isn’t about following secret techniques or using specialist tools. It’s far simpler. Success in change management comes down to the way you engage your people.
Why are good relationships essential to managing change in the workplace?
It is often said in change management circles that organisations don’t change – people do. So it stands to reason that by involving your employees in organisational change, you increase your chances of success.
To look at things from another perspective, ignoring the impact of workplace change on your people is an expensive mistake. Not only will the desired change take longer to implement, but business leaders who try to ‘go it alone’ when managing change in the workplace will see problems such as:
- Key stakeholders who are unwilling to support the change
- Reduced employee morale and a ‘them and us’ division within the organisation
- Key talent leaving the business
- Impacts on supplier relationships
- Reduced customer service due to reduced productivity and lower employee morale.
How can SME leaders successfully manage change in the workplace?
The impact of poorly managed change can be devastating. But this needn’t be the case. The fundamentals of successfully managing change in the workplace are simple – leaders must prioritise employee involvement and engagement.
The three key steps to successful change management
At its simplest, managing change in the workplace involves three steps. These are:
- Communication & consultation
As you’d expect, the activities behind these three steps are more involved. However, using this as a guide with which to successfully manage change will deliver positive results. Here are some things to consider:
1. Communication & consultation
Sell the benefits of the change. Getting your employees’ buy-in to the proposed change is fundamental to the success of any workplace change. This isn’t always easy and takes a combination of factual evidence and an effort to win hearts and minds. Clearly communicating why the change is taking place and how employees, customers and the broader business will benefit is critical. Unclear or one-sided benefits will do little to win support.
Listen to your team. Understanding your team’s perspective is a crucial element in ensuring success when managing change in the workplace. There’s an extra benefit to this too. By encouraging them to express their concerns, you may hear ideas and suggestions that help with the success of the eventual change.
Identify potential supporters. Key stakeholders, managers and supervisors are essential in your efforts to get buy-in from across the organisation. Spend extra time with these people to ensure they understand the new initiatives inside-out. Managers who have a strong relationship with their teams may well be able to bring employees on-board more successfully than you could.
Be consistent. Communicating change in the workplace needs more than a single email giving employees a brief update. The best communication is consistent, adaptable and accessible to all employees. This may mean you need to use a range of communication methods – could a marketing specialist in your company help you with your communication plan? Consider employees who work part-time hours or who are on the road – how will they hear updates? And what about employees who do not have access to company email – what will you do to ensure they get timely information?
Involve your workforce. It’s tempting to create a plan that shows how you will manage change in the workplace and share it as a done deal. However, this approach can quickly ruffle feathers and impact the success of the project. Not only does this approach fail to take the skills of your employees on board, but you also miss an opportunity to keep your employees engaged.
A University of Cambridge study found that SMEs who actively engage their employees in change planning are more successful. The key approach? Instead of saying ‘please do this’, ask ‘how can we do this?’. This simple tweak reduces the resistance to change because it makes your employees feel that they are driving the transformation.
Set parameters. Setting timescales and identifying deliverables are project management 101 but can be easy to lose sight of. Timescales should include the transition start date and your target completion date. And here’s a word of caution - planning to start the change project too quickly can be counterproductive. Employees will need time to digest the upcoming changes and have an opportunity to provide feedback.
Be clear on resources. Will you need to hire additional staff in order to implement your planned change? Do you need new software or capital expenditure? Budget cuts are never popular, especially if they’re funding an unwanted change. Overstretching employees will make you even less popular. As well as ensuring you have identified all the resources you need to implement your workplace change, make sure your resource availability and project start-date coincide. This way employees won’t be negatively affected with unrealistic workloads.
Be flexible. A degree of flexibility is essential if you want to manage change in the workplace smoothly. Carrying out a risk analysis with key stakeholders is a good way to pre-empt bumps in the road while also engaging your team in the process. Doing this will give you an alternative course of action if things don’t go to plan.
Keep communicating. With your plan created and your team on-board, it’s full steam ahead. Or is it? Communication continues to be essential for successfully managing change in the workplace. Continuing the communication plan that you set up at the outset is an easy way to ensure employees remain aware of progress and any changes that may affect them.
Remain accountable. As a business leader, it’s essential that SME owners continue to hold overall accountability for the implementation of a change programme. As well as monitoring progress, leaders must support their team. This support can come in several guises. Practical support such as fast approvals can help ensure the programme runs smoothly while minimising frustration. Emotional support is equally valuable, for example demonstrating appreciation for the work that’s being done and acting as a safe space to share frustrations and concerns.
Remain committed. With a capable team successfully driving change in the workplace, you may feel as if you can move forwards and turn your attention to something else. Be cautious about doing this. It can signal to employees that you are no longer interested in the project, and this may lead to a slow-down in the project timeline or a shift in attitudes. Continue to demonstrate your commitment to the initiative by asking for regular updates, including it as a standard item on meeting agendas, checking in with project leads and thanking employees for their continued effort.
Managing change in the workplace is rarely without complications but can make all the difference in growing your business and giving you a competitive edge. Knowing how to involve your employees in these important changes helps reduce complexity for you and creates a happier and more productive workforce.
A healthy company culture can help leaders successfully manage change in the workplace. Learn more about why company culture is important and the positive impacts of a great company culture in our company Culture Hub.
Author: Laura Sands
Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.