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If it's true the only constant is change — and I believe it is — then the days of change initiatives with start and stop dates is over. Entrepreneurs are especially aware that change is becoming part and parcel of daily operations.
Risk is a familiar partner for entrepreneurs. But the shifting risks associated with constant change can present a unique set of challenges. There are three primary drivers.
- Change Or Die: Advances in technology, increased competition and changes in legal, regulatory or industry requirements force firms to change in response. What's more, these occurrences now take place on a more frequent basis.
- Change To Grow: A desire to increase customer base, improve performance, or pursue expansion strategies requires entrepreneurs to change. The appetite for success is ever-present.
- Change Is Good: A philosophical view that change is advantageous. A leadership transition or a rebound from scandal are just two reasons firms might view change as welcome. In this philosophy, change can be either an "offensive" or "defensive" weapon.
Some studies have put the failure rate of change initiatives as high as 70 percent. So how can you be successful? Here are five ways to transform your business into one that thrives in the new reality.
1. Partners, not just workers.
It's important to treat your firm's members as partners when you communicate with them. Involve them not only to share information but also to garner their buy-in. This requires you to create multiple avenues of two-way communication. Make room for fears to surface and encourage your partners to ask questions. This empowers you to explore alternatives together.
Silence is far from golden in this model. A lack of response to leadership communications usually indicates an environment lacking trust. Model the transparency you wish to see in your partners. After all, unexpressed concerns can't be addressed or resolved.
2. People, not just employees.
Placing increased value on relationships will help you earn employee confidence. I firmly believe that people follow only leaders they know and trust. This is critical in firms facing constant change. A senior leader once told me bluntly, "I don't believe in this organizational change BS, but I trust you so I am willing to give it a try."
Entrepreneurs and other leaders must get to know the people in their business and be transparent enough to allow people to truly know them as well.
3. Participants, not just staff members.
People support the change they help to create. Two-way communication lays the groundwork for involving all members of the firm in planning, implementing and/or managing change's impacts. Participants should be engaged to differing degrees, as appropriate to their role in the company and the changes they'll feel most directly.
This requires leaders to allow more time and exercise greater patience to implement individual work initiatives. I've learned the hard way that the ultimate advantages of longer processes are far more preferable to outcomes achieved via shortcuts. Participants feel accountable for results because they're part of developing the tactics. They aren't treated simply as staff to implement someone else's ideas.
4. Security, not just safety.
Firm leaders must feel secure in their own identities as well as their positions in the firm. To thrive in an environment of constant change, leaders must be risk-tolerant, avoid becoming defensive, establish trust-based relationships and exercise patience in the face of pressure. Creating effective, two-way communication through transparent channels requires a high degree of self-confidence. In other words, leaders need an equally high emotional intelligence quotient.
5. Competency, not just reactivity.
Build change competencies into the DNA of your company. To implement the principles discussed above, entrepreneurial leaders and managers need to make capacity for change part of the standard skill set. You'll also need to define job-specific competencies for yourself and your participant staff members.
As you develop job descriptions and selection tools for attracting the right people, review your work to make sure you're emphasizing change competencies. Once selected, employees must be trained and developed, assessed and evaluated, rewarded and recognized — all based on these agreed-upon competencies. If you can transform your company into one that consistently displays these principles, you can better manage the risks associated with constant change and thrive even in a marketplace fraught with increased challenges.