This is a further article in my series looking at fundamental areas of business. Common themes emerge wherever I work. Whether it’s with small businesses or global corporations and anywhere in the world, it’s remarkable how common some issues are.
Even in Greek Philosophy
“The only thing that is constant is change” is the famous quote from Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher. That’s true in business and if it isn’t, you need to worry! Businesses don’t stand still, they either go forward or go backwards. If a business stands still, the market, their customers and their competitors – and frequently, all three – continue to go forward so the business effectively goes backwards.
Therefore, business needs change and needs to be really good at accomplishing it. But when was the last time you were trained in how to accomplish change? Or trained your teams? Whenever I’m looking at a business, their appetite and resilience to change is critical – it’s a fundamental. Change management is one of those core skills that each and every one of us needs in life and at work.
The software developer’s approach to change management
As I write this, I’m reflecting that many readers will be in the technology world. Discuss change management with a software development team and you will see a very formal and organized approach. In a development project they will assess the change requested, log it, schedule it in, and only then agree to implement the change. This is a very worthy approach and absolutely critical if they are going to avoid “feature creep” and deliver the project on time. Change management in the wider business sense can’t always adopt the same approach. Organisations that are good at change don’t think of it as a task. They embed it into their ethos and implement change projects using a vision for a better future after the change, and have tools to make that happen.
Make it habitual
Some people love change, they thrive on it, but for others, it’s daunting, unsettling and sometimes downright scary. These feelings often manifest as worry, reluctance and sometimes resistance that could even be categorised as sabotage. Deliberate sabotage is rare in business in my experience – most people have good intentions. But unconsciously sabotaging a project is unfortunately much too common and frequently just an outcome of people protecting themselves from the change they fear.
I worked for a company once that re-organised every year. That’s right, every year! Almost all teams were restructured, and a good many people had to apply for new jobs even if it was virtually the same job but in a different structure or with a different manager. Sounds unsettling, right? Well it was at first but because it was an annual process, you soon got used to it. One very wise colleague also gave me some sage advice. In that environment we really only had our jobs for 9 months. Each year there was a month or two of setting up the new structure and settling into the new role and the final month was spent with reviews and finishing off projects.
That was a liberating thought – if the role isn’t going well, I only had to worry about it for a maximum of 9 months and then there would be the chance to look at something new. This approach had two advantages. The first is that you became very focused on quick results. The second was that you became really good at living through change if you stayed for a few years. There were plenty who didn’t stay for long because this was too unsettling or other factors took them away. For those of us who did stick it out, I feel we learned valuable skills and resilience that have no doubt served us well since.
This wasn’t a perfect environment and, as you’d imagine, many stayed in their roles from year to year and delivered great results. However, it does instil some great change management skills so although not perfect, we learned a great deal.
Wouldn’t it be easier if the culture in your business welcomed change? If it relished the opportunities that change brings and even sought the next new and exciting project with drive and enthusiasm. If your teams asked you at each company meeting what the new project was for this month, or quarter, or year?
Being open to change, embracing the opportunities it offers and having a team ready to leap on new projects, paves the way for improvement. That means better ways of doing things, improved results for customers, company growth and new successes. Effectively managing change should be in the DNA of your company – invest in skilling your managers and teams so they can not only accomplish change, but actively go looking for it.