New Year, new direction? How change management can help your business make the most of 2021

Does your business have lots of ideas about how to change? Have you drawn up an ambitious list of New Year’s resolutions to help your company make the most of 2021? We all use the impetus of the old year coming to an end to state our good intentions and ways in which we are going to better ourselves over the next twelve months. Yet, how many of us are still on the bandwagon, come December?

That’s where change management can be extremely effective. Organisations that are facing change, whether self-imposed or as a result of flux in the world around them, can often go off course if they cannot deal with the fall-out of switching to a new direction. By studying the discipline and principles behind change management and applying them to your own company, you can be better equipped to weather the storms of change as they approach you in 2021 and beyond. Here’s what you need to know.

Know why you need (or want) to change

Start by asking yourself some questions about the change you plan to make within your business. Why do you want or need to change? Why must it happen now (or whenever you are planning to take action)? What would happen if you don’t make the change? What happens if you do act, and it doesn’t work out? Write these questions and answers down and discuss with your team and/or a trusted external advisor or change management expert. This will help you work out if you really do need or want to act at all.

Know what you want the change to achieve

Linked to the point above, once you have decided that you do need to make a change, take time to discuss what you want it to achieve, and whether or not you think it is realistic or likely to make the difference you are hoping for. Should you be investing your effort, time and money into making this change, or is there a different way to approach the problem, issue or ambition? If relevant, make some projections into potential cost implications, profit margins, HR measures and expansion plans to see if the work involved would return a suitable investment. Only by defining and committing to your stated goal can you really start to commit to the change and the long-term planning involved in making it happen.

Know how to prepare for change

Once you have worked out that you need the change to happen and you understand what you want it to achieve, you can start preparing to make it a reality. Work out what you need and how you are going to fund it – both resources and manhours. Draw up a realistic timetable, building in time for slippage and unforeseen set-backs. Make sure you have the right know-how, training and, if relevant, qualifications to make everything work. Do you need to seek permission or formal accreditation? Who else needs to know about the change, internally within the business and outside in terms of governing bodies, customers, suppliers and investors?

Know how to describe the change

Communications can make or break a business and any changes that it wishes to make. Ensure that your communications strategy is clearly defined to promote the key positive messages around your change, in advance of it happening. Work out the vocabulary, tone of voice and communication channels that you are going to use and how these choices will affect your various audiences, both positively and negatively. Talking of negative communications, if your change is going to result in some people not being happy or supportive, e.g. if changes in personnel are involved, have a plan in place to mitigate against any bad publicity or loss of goodwill that could ensue. People can feel very uncertain in times of flux, volatility or change, and their feelings must be acknowledged and handled with due sensitivity and care.

Know how to actually make the change

Finally, after all the analysis, planning, and communicating, it’s time to actually make the change. Carry out your plans, made earlier in the change management process to ensure that everything that needs to happen actually does. Be confident in your plans and stick to your agreed schedule as much as you can to minimise disruption and reassure people affected that everything is under control. Follow the advice of any programme or change management experts you have drafted in, as their knowledge and skills will help you ease the transition even more smoothly. Keep people informed at every step and invite their input to encourage engagement and support.

Know what it has all achieved

Finally, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your change management labours. Celebrate any successes and deal with any concerns quickly and correctly to keep them manageable and to stop them derailing the longer-term plan. Keep records that chart the effects of the change, such as sales figures, website hits, positive (and negative) customer reviews and employee feedback. Keep people informed about progress and any future plans to build on the changes already put in place. Then, when you find yourself at the start of 2022, you can hopefully look back on a successful year of change.

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