Business Tools

10 Ways to Manage Change

Christine Corelli

Author and speaker Christine Corelli will be a featured presenter at the SEMA Show, Tuesday, October 30, at 9:30 a.m. Don't miss her session, "Wake Up & Smell the Competition."

If there's one word that captures the essence of what is occurring in the world today, it's “change.” Downsizing, reorganizing and cutting costs are now the norm when it comes to surviving during an unstable economy.

No industry is exempt; there are no sacred cows. Even the most venerable and conservative institutions are undergoing significant change just to survive. In spite of the improvement that many specialty-equipment manufacturers, distributors and retailers are reporting, a full recovery is not predicted to occur in the immediate future.  

The Challenge of Change

No one likes the changes that have occurred—least of all business owners—especially when it is a negative turn of events that dramatically impacts their bottom line. The difficulty is even pronounced after an era of relatively solid growth and strong revenues. Unfortunately, while it may not be easy, every business owner and manager needs to deal with it the best that they can.

For those who have made a conscious decision to make it though these tough times, their survival instincts have kicked in. They have decided to meet these challenges head on and move forward. They have assessed what changes they can control and which ones they cannot. By adopting this mindset, they are in a better position to meet additional challenges they will confront as they strive to carry their business into a more successful future.

Making Hard Choices

Today’s business owners will have to get even tougher to make the hard choices and difficult decisions that will continue to face them in the months ahead. They will have to dig in their heels and fight.

Accepting that the world has changed and knowing that the organization must change as well is the first step in a long process. What worked in the past will not necessarily work in the new business environment. Smarter decisions will have to be made, new ways of doing business will have to be uncovered and the required organizational changes will have to be made to ensure survival and what constitutes the new success.  

Managing Change Effectively

Once decisions are made, whether it’s more reorganization, diversifying, new business models, new strategies to increase productivity and profitability, and drive higher performance, the next challenge is implementing the changes throughout the business. This is, of course, a key responsibility for executives, managers and business owners. If the necessary changes are not managed correctly, the result can be a distraught organization filled with a disgruntled staff, exhibiting poor performance and only average customer service. All this inevitably leads to greater loss in revenues and lower profit margins.  

Ten ways to implement change successfully:

1. Communicate the reason for your hard choices and the changes you need to make.

Communication is always important, but it is critical in a changing business environment. Make every effort to ensure that all employees understand the hard choices you’ve had to make and how difficult it has been for you, personally. They will respect you for it. Talk to them about your competitive strategy and the changes you want to make. Make them a part of it so that they can assume a degree of ownership in the situation. Ask for their ideas and input.

Communicate your goals and direction to every level of the company. Use sincere language, such as: "I fully understand that things are different from what they have been in the past, but I'm committed to ensuring that we make it through these tough times, and I'm counting on you to help me make it happen. Here's what I need from you..."  Then tell them.

While every business leader has their own communication style, the following are examples of how to best communicate:

  • “We need everyone to give their full support to our sales team. Without more sales, we cannot move forward.” Then, ask the sales team to come forward and have a candid conversation about how everyone can help them in their efforts to win new sales and maintain loyal customers.
  • “We need to deliver superior customer service on a continuous basis and develop a reputation for it. If we don’t, we will surely not be able to compete in today’s changing marketplace. Customers are more service-savvy than ever.”
  • “We need everyone to display initiative beyond their job description. I realize that means doing more, but I know that you can do it, and we’ll do our best to be supportive and helpful to each other.”
  • “We need to be accountable to each other, not only for our performance and the level of service we provide to customers and each other, but also for the attitude we bring to work with us each day.” Then, facilitate a discussion. Ask them to be specific as they write down ways they will agree to be accountable.  
  • “We need to stay positive and maintain high morale. I know it’s been tough, but together we’ll see progress.”
  • “We need new ideas, and we need to implement those ideas. Let’s hear them.”
  • “We need everyone to promote our business. Everyone’s in sales!”

2.  Involve your management team in strategic planning and develop them to be change coaches.

Your entire management team needs to be involved with creating your competitive strategy and on board with the changes you want to implement. Share the role you expect them to have and provide a detailed set of actions. Make sure they understand that they are the coaches that will spur the team forward, and their job is to ensure your entire team is aligned with your competitive strategy. Remind them to think and act as dynamic leaders who will provide the inspiration and encouragement to your entire workforce.

3.  Establish a “change” team.

Follow the example of smart companies who create teams to assist in this area. Appoint top performers to be on your “change” team to lead the way to deploy the change-management process. Let them know you understand that they already have a heavy workload, but you are confident they can help make a difference in your company. Choose people who have high levels of credibility in the company; give them direct access to customers. Let the team know it is expected to help identify problems and focus on offering solutions. Use the motto, "For every problem there is a solution," not only with your team, but also throughout the company.

As problems occur during the onset of change implementation, ask the team to help. New ways of doing things rarely occur without glitches, so ask them to brainstorm ways to identify and solve problems even before they present themselves.

4. Establish an atmosphere and culture of open communication.

Open communication is important in every organization at all times. It becomes even more critical when implementing change. As you begin planning organizational changes, consider developing a concurrent communication strategy to remind people about the nature of the changes, the expectations and the progress that is being made.

In today's changing business environment, employees quickly lose their motivation if they are not involved and kept informed of changes going on around them. The less they are informed, the more it will have a negative impact on their performance. Your silence will undoubtedly be misinterpreted. They may believe you are hiding some other significant changes, especially when it comes to their job security. With open communication, you will build the most important link between you and your people—one of trust.

Communicate what you know and, as uncomfortable as it may be, communicate what you don’t know. “I promise you I will make every effort to drive business growth. I do not want to have to let a single person lose their job from here on. I’m not sure this new competitive strategy will carry us through, but I’m going to make every effort to keep and even hire back the people we’ve had to let go.”  They will respect you for your honesty. Failing to address the difficult questions—questions people may already be asking each other and their peers, does not make the issues go away. Encourage every employee to talk to you about any concerns they may have. Establish a culture of open communication, where people feel free to speak up without fear of losing their jobs. Consistently ask for ideas and suggestions from employees. Encourage them to speak openly about every single thing that might hold your organization back. Ask them to come forward to identify any service flaws that might exist, any wasteful spending they see, ways to streamline operations and any other areas where you need help.

5. Introduce change gradually whenever possible.

While you may not genuinely have the time to move slowly, changing a situation too quickly will create chaos for your organization. You may feel your people are ready to respond to change, but they may not be able to absorb the changes as quickly as you like. It takes time to assimilate new information, learn new systems or procedures and to do things in a new and different way.  

Give your staff time to understand the first wave of changes before introducing more. There are some managers who prefer a single big macro change rather than several small ones. They feel if everyone learns the game plan all at once, they can get on with the business at hand. They believe that disruption continues during the change process whether the changes are big or small.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most people are shocked by any major change. The bigger the change, the bigger the shock. If there needs to be a major change, try to anticipate the reaction and prepare your staff to the best of your ability. This empathetic approach will help everyone concerned in the long run. You know your people, so think about what would be best for them.

Keep in mind that while you may be committed to the changes, others will not have had the time to recognize the problem and understand the need for the changes. You will be setting yourself up for misunderstanding. You must make sure they understand what your needs and expectations are. Try to introduce changes incrementally, if possible.  

Remember it's important to move at a pace that will ensure you meet your business goals while giving your people the opportunity to process the changes for themselves. 

6. Be in tune to difficulties some may be experiencing.

Recognize that change affects each individual differently. Some people are more adaptable than others. Many top performers will roll up their sleeves to make things work, moving out of their comfort zone instantly. Others may be completely overwhelmed. Let them know you understand the challenges they are facing and that you are there to help them through it. Here, remember the importance of open communication. Keep your door open to allow people to come in to discuss any apprehension. Provide a comfortable environment where people can air their concerns.

7.  Manage resistance.

Human beings are basically creatures of habit. They like doing things the same way. Doing things differently takes them out of their comfort zones. Some employees may resist and hold back their team and, consequently, your company. Talk to any person who comes to work with a chip on his or her shoulder. Ask the person who is making negative remarks and pulling down morale to refrain from doing so. Explain that everyone is working hard to pull together and deliver their best performance each day. Ask them what you can do to help them adjust and adapt to the changes that are occurring.

8.  Be a role model.

It is up to you as their leader to maintain employee morale through change. Set the tone; be a role model and be an example for others to follow. During tough times, people will always watch how their leader is acting. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to your attitude. When the economy is down, you have to be up.

9.  Take the time to train.

To reduce the loss of productivity during change, make sure your people have the necessary skills to succeed. Training must be a top priority. The time and money you invest in training will eventually pay off in increased profits and service quality. Work with your HR department. As you look at the changes you plan to implement, ask yourself these training-related questions:

  • What is the level of competence needed to support the changes in our company and help us make it through these challenging times?
  • What training will be needed to bring the staff up to that level of competence?
  • What training is needed on new products and procedures?

Don't treat training as though it is the flu—if your staff hangs around together long enough, they will catch it. Training is the vaccine that helps to eliminate the stress common during change. It demonstrates that you appreciate your employees’ efforts, want them to feel as though they are a strong part of your team and also that you plan on keeping them working for you. In essence, training gives your employees a “shot in the arm.”

10.  Alleviate job pressure.

Meeting the demands placed upon people during the change process requires managing job pressure for yourself and others. What is occurring in business today is serious, but the stress can be reduced by keeping an effort to maintain high morale. For example, one business owner holds an annual employee appreciation event. Employees and their families are included as well as customers’ families.

In spite of the tough economy, this smart business owner recognizes the importance of continuing this management/employee and customer relationship-building activity. His policy is to treat his employees as well as he treats his best customers.

Another way to alleviate job pressure is to find simple ways to celebrate even the smallest successes. They will pay off big.

The best way to alleviate job pressure is to be the best boss you can be. If you are respected and admired by your employees, they will perform for you. Make your employees feel they are working with you, and not for you.

The Bottom Line

Now for the final issue: Making those hard choices, meeting your challenges head on and adapting to change with new ways of doing business is the only way to go. Will you choose to be like the chameleon, which can quickly adapt to a changing environment? Or, will you choose to follow in the path of the once powerful Tyrannosaurus Rex that became extinct because it could not respond to a changing environment? Putting it this way, the answer seems easy. No one wants to be extinct. Unfortunately, we sometimes (even unknowingly) put up our own roadblocks to success. We wait for things to turn around, complain loudly, and refuse to take on the challenge. We simply can’t adapt. The truth is that the specialty-equipment industry and business environment has changed; it’s business not as usual. The smartest manufacturers, distributors, retailers and related business owners have successfully implemented changes in their businesses to create and sustain success.

We can choose to embrace new ways of doing business or be left behind. Can you rise to meet the challenges?

About the Author: Christine Corelli of Christine Corelli & Associates Inc., is the author of the book, Wake Up and Smell the Competition. She is slated to speak at the SEMA Show, October 30. She can be reached at 847-581-9968 or via her website at