All aboard! How to chart a successful course for change

"Change is the only constant in life," said Greek philosopher Heraclitus. And when you're busy running your business, making any change can be challenging.

Your business will no doubt need to change a number of things over time: how you manage bookings and payments, the services and products you offer, how you communicate with customers, the systems that support your business... the list goes on.

Understanding the critical factors for positive change will help you overcome the inherent challenges and take your business to the next level.

The first step in charting a course for change is identifying what you need to change and why:

  • Make sure you’re making changes for the right reasons, not just because you feel pressured.
  • Think about potential changes and which option is best suited to your business needs and goals.
  • Think about whether there'll be a knock-on effect to other areas of the business so you can plan accordingly.
  • Summarise the reason for change in a few sentences so you can explain the bigger picture clearly.


Making the right change

Sometimes there’s no choice but to make a change: the lease has expired, a supplier’s closed down, or something just isn’t working. In these time-sensitive situations the pressure is on to make a change and make it fast, but a snap decision can come back to bite you.

Rather than make a split-second decision and an arbitrary change, open your diary straight away and allocate some time as soon as possible—moving other commitments if necessary—so you can sit down, research different options, make some calls, crunch the numbers, choose the right change, and formulate an action plan.

Assess all the information you have in order to make the right changes for your business

Schedule time to gather and assess all the relevant information so you can make the best change.

It’s important to work through the same process for proactive change you don’t have to make but would benefit your business. However, without a sense of urgency, it’s easy for these important changes to take a backseat in your business. Making these important but not urgent changes a priority is difficult when there’s already so much to do, but the alternative—not making time for positive change—can hold your business back and have an impact down the track.

For example:

  • Changing to new online accounting software like Xero at the start of the financial year simplifies and automates your accounts, gives you 24/7 mobile access to your business finances and takes away quarterly and EOFY tax headaches.
  • Changing an existing menu to provide clearly marked options for customers with dietary requirements saves waiters and chefs from constantly having to spend time discussing and creating one-off dishes and gives customers confidence.
  • Changing the business’s marketing efforts to include social media is a cost-effective way for service providers like hairdressers, builders, and interior designers to showcase their work and attract new clients.
  • Be mindful of taking the time to clarify why you need to do things differently and how you’ll manage each change. A measured approach helps you anticipate and prevent problems for the best possible business outcomes.

Context and collaboration are king

If you have a team or might in the future, they’ll need to understand why the change has to happen; so before going into detail about what’s changing, give them context. Start with the big picture then describe the positives you’re striving for and problems you’re trying to solve.

Given that people are the ones who make change happen, how they feel is critical to its success or failure. Change is 30 per cent more likely to stick if people are truly invested in it, and if change will affect someone's job, this can affect how on board they are with making the changes.

“Be open and available. If there are specific concerns, do what you can to alleviate those concerns,” says leadership coach Ken Wright.

Involve the team in change discussions and collaborative decision-making so they feel part of the process and take ownership when it’s time to implement the change.


Getting into the right frame of mind

Humans are creatures of habit, so when it comes to change, we need retrain our brains to be readily receptive to new ways of thinking and doing. Schedule time to plan how you'll break old habits and form new ones aligned with the change.

Understand which old habits in your business should be broken for the better

Understanding how habits work helps you establish new habits for positive change.

Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit explains the science behind how habits work and provides a fascinating insight into how cultivating new habits creates positive change. “Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped,” says Duhigg. “There’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.”

Your checklist for change

For change to have the best chance of success in your business, you need to:

1. Identify the need for change as soon as possible to avoid future stress.

2. Take the time to assess the options and choose the one that’s right for your business.

3. Explain why the change is needed, ask for input and communicate when and how the change will happen.

4. Invest in training to make sure you’re equipped with all the skills needed for the change.

5. Schedule when you’ll review the effectiveness of the change and make any necessary adjustments.