Is Business Change possible?

Is business change possible? - absolutely unequivocally yes…but it takes action. A great man once said, “If you always do what you've always done, then you will always get what you've always got” (Henry Ford) – so…..if you don’t like the outcome you’re getting at the moment…..then you have to change something!

It’s at this point that that the problems normally start.

"We have always had the ideas - but getting something to happen has been the problem”

This is the classic catch cry of many in business when confronted with the need to change. Frequently the ideas of what needs to be changed - and to what, are not the problem, but finding the time, focus, process and commitment are.

If this sounds all too familiar to you, then read on for 8 simple tips to take the “idea” to “reality”.

Tip # 1 - Start with a clear scope.

The nucleus of any good planning – know what you are trying to achieve. This needs to include reference to the required outcome, the key change points, accountability, measurement definitions, timeframe and budget. Laser clarity on these is essentially to ensure that you are always working towards your required outcome. If the scope is not clear - then the change will not deliver the required result.

Tip # 2 - Understand where you currently stand.

Generally this is the driver for change – ie. something is not working - but a little bit more time spent to understand why it’s not working will provide dividends. Deeper investigation here will uncover the true cause of the matter as opposed to the simpler symptom which is being seen.

Tip # 3 - Create a clear plan.

Change does not just happen, it requires strong planning and the more major the change, the more complex the plan. Break down the change into bit sized chunks, assign responsibility and time-board the plan. Involve the end users in the development as not only will they have great input to offer, but it also sees it become "our" idea. Instil milestone performance gates to confirm measurement points and meet regularly to assess performance to plan and adjust as required. Someone needs to own and administer the change plan – so be clear on who this is and empower them to get the job done.

Tip # 4 - Measure and celebrate your wins.

Change generally takes time, so it is important to celebrate the wins along the way. In the planning process you will have set some milestones – they can be simple (ie. plan in place – check!), but acknowledge this has been done. Measuring and monitoring the milestones also raises the accountability level for all involved. Celebration of achievement can be anything from a specific comment in a meeting, to popping champagne corks - with the level of celebration naturally aligned to the level of achievement.

Tip # 5 - Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Communicate to the wider team regularly. Ensure that they understand what it being done and why. Do not make the mistake of assuming “they don’t need to know”, as in the absence of information, people image the worst and this can be very counterproductive.  Seek out the balance point of providing enough information versus the time taken to deliver it, along with consideration of the volume of change. Simple rulethe greater the change, the greater the level of communication required.

Tip # 6 - Consider the flow on implications.

Behind every change are flow-on implications, so consider these and manage them. These could be staff, finance, trading disruption, customer concerns, supply, logistics etc, so by considering these early you are better able to mitigate any issues. Refer to my earlier note titled “Play it forward three hands” for more detail on this.

Tip # 7 - Test a sample.

Not all changes work as intended, whether this be new/varied products, new processes or IT systems, so whenever possible – test with a smaller controlled sample before go live with a full production run or over the whole business. This permits minor adjustments to enhance the outcome or…occasionally to uncover a potential failure point. Particular care should be taken when changing critical aspects of the business, as these will have a higher downside risk if something goes wrong.

Tip # 8 - Learn from the experience.

Regardless of the change or the level of success, there is always a learning around what to do more of OR less of – so capture this for next time. A “learning log” for items like this can be a very simple, yet effective way or capturing this. Learnings should also not just be restricted to your business, consider others in like industries or those who have completed like changes - and learn from their experience. Just knowing what the early signs of a problem looks like can save you considerable cost.

Regardless of the change, the true test of success is the outcome – and for most businesses, the success is measured in improved business turnover and better underlying profitability. So by taking heed of the above tips, you can avoid (or at least lessen) issues faced by many businesses who have already tackled change and more to a better underlying profit faster.