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Entrepreneurial Tip Corner: Change Management

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In order to not only stay competitive but also simply survive in this tough economy, organizations must be nimble, light on their feet, and ready and willing to change gears quickly to respond to a rapidly evolving environment. The phrase “business as usual” no longer means same old, same old, but rather changing with the times. 

Businesses that built their reputations on low cost and high quality must adapt to—and embrace—new technologies to maintain their standards. Additionally, businesses need to reinvent themselves and their processes to stay ahead of the competition. You understand that these changes need to occur, but you don't know where to start or who to include in this initiative.

There are many ways to initiate change, but first and foremost you need to have “buy-in” from the top of the organization. If an operations manager fails to enlist the buy-in from the CEO, he is seriously jeopardizing the success of this initiative. There are several ways to enlist such buy-in: identify potential threats to the business if such change is not made and, identify opportunities which can arise from such a change, or seek support for your rationale from industry insiders or customers and clients.

Once you have buy-in from the top, you should reach out to the individuals within your organization who have the ability to influence others through their leadership abilities. Once you have identified such leaders, their commitment to the overall goal and objective, both from a time perspective and an emotional basis, must be enlisted. Think of this as the firm's all-star team with key players from each department. This team will play an extremely important role in formulating ideas and solutions to address the threats and opportunities identified by each member. As the person responsible for leading this change process, you need to codify all of the great ideas and concepts into an overall vision that most people within the organization can easily identify with. This overall vision will become essential when tasks and directives that are distributed to facilitate the overall change, as these changes will be understood and appreciated by those individuals being asked to participate. This concept should be condensable, cut down to a few sentences, and it should convey your image of what the future of your organization should look like. You should then create both an overall strategy and a detailed strategy to execute this vision.

Do not simply call special meetings to communicate your vision; instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When the vision is fresh in everyone's minds, they'll remember and respond to it. It's also important to "walk the talk." What you do is far more important than what you say. Leading by example demonstrates the kind of behavior that you expect from others within your organization.

If you've followed the aforementioned steps, you've been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully your staff wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you've been promoting. You should begin to have one-to-one meetings with your key players from each department to find out if anyone is resisting the change or if there are any processes or impediments that stand in the way of the change. You will need to work diligently with your key players in order to remove any obstacles and assure that the process of change moves forward.

As you begin to institute the change, recognize that it is a process and that lasting change will not happen overnight. It will take time and effort in this day of instant gratification, e-mails, and Twitter; top management might not be keen on waiting as long as may be required to see meaningful, significant results. Therefore, I would suggest setting interim goals which can be achieved at specific intervals within the overall planned change schedule. Allowing your staff to achieve such victories along the way will further motivate them, and, at the same time, might silence or at least placate critics and negative thinkers. Additionally, you should be sure to reward the key staff who have helped you achieve the short-term goals.

Once you have managed the entire change process successfully, you need to make it an integral part of your organization. The change must no longer be thought of as a change, but rather as a central component of your corporate culture. You should make ongoing efforts to ensure that the change is rooted in every aspect of your organization in order to assure that it grows and flourishes.

Implementing a major change in one or more of your business processes is a daunting task, but if you follow the steps outlined here and are diligent and committed to the change, you have a much better chance of a successful implementation for your organization.

–Michael Herz, CPA, MBA

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