Change management isn’t just an exercise for big companies in the midst of transition. Small businesses also need to help guide their employees through change. However, research by our company has found that many small businesses hit major potholes with their change management efforts.
About half of senior managers at the small businesses surveyed (those with 20-49 and 50-99 employees) report that their change management efforts typically fail at the execution stage. Nearly a quarter of respondents said the post-implementation phase is the biggest stumbling block.
What’s the problem? More than likely, lack of communication is the key reason for change management failure. Sixty-five percent of senior managers at companies of all sizes said that communicating clearly and frequently was critical to seeing their employees successfully through a significant change event.
Change management pitfalls and best practices
How can you up your game with change management? By avoiding these five common pitfalls the next time your small business faces a period of transition, and applying the following best practices:
1. Waiting too long to communicate
Many managers will sit on news about change, believing that they’re protecting their employees from stress, or preventing disruption in the workplace. However, the longer you keep your team in the dark about change, the more likely rumors will spread. Once that happens, it will be very difficult for your employees to clearly hear the messages you want to communicate about the change.
Best practice: As soon as goals are set, bring your employees into the loop. Share as much information as you think is appropriate, and encourage your staff to ask questions and share their opinions.
2. Overwhelming staff with information
Communication is important to successful change management (and good leadership), but you should still be selective about how much detail you share. In addition, if you provide too many updates about the change, there’s a good chance many of your employees will stop paying attention to the messages.
Best practice: Share information that will be most pertinent to your staff. For a start, they will want to know the bottom-line basics: when is the change taking place, why is it happening, and how will it impact the organization — and their jobs. If possible, communicate these details personally to your team, as a group, so everyone hears the same information at once and can ask questions.
3. Failing to focus on the benefits
Even positive change can be disruptive for the employees of your small business. So, if you don’t accentuate the benefits throughout the transition, you’ll likely struggle to get buy-in from your team for the change. You may also experience significant hurdles during the post-implementation stage because employees will be resistant to accept the change.
Best practice: Whether your small business is implementing new technology designed to enhance employee productivity, or adopting new processes, be clear about the potential positive outcomes for your staff. Doing so will help you to build consensus for the change — and perhaps even generate excitement.
4. Not keeping it real
While you want your staff to support and look forward to the transition you have planned for your small business, you need to be honest about what it will take to implement the change successfully. If you’re not, you risk losing your employees’ trust.
Best practice: Avoid setting unrealistic goals or timelines for the transition, and don’t sidestep discussion about potential challenges the change may be bring. Also let your employees know that they can come to you at any time with their questions or concerns.
5. Letting communication slide post-implementation
Here’s the thing about change: Just because you hit your deadline for implementation, it doesn’t mean everyone is feeling prepared and confident. In fact, your small business may travel a bumpy road for the next several weeks or months as employees get used to the new status quo. Easing up on change management efforts during this time can lead to disaster.
Best practice: Once the change is in place, ramp up communication to your employees. Make sure they have what they need to succeed. For example, you may find that you need to offer training to some or all team members, or that you need to engage extra support, such as project professionals.
Remember, your ability to affect change for your small business requires the support and involvement of your employees, at least to some degree. So, when team members step up to help you and their colleagues through the transition, be quick to acknowledge their contributions. And with each major milestone achieved, take a moment to share and celebrate that success with your employees. These are good practices not only for change management, but staff management.
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