Change has been on my mind a lot lately.
One reason is that here in Canada we just experienced an intense federal election that, at least for the victors, was fought and won based on the idea of change. The Conservatives had led our government for almost ten years and there was a strong feeling among voters that it was time to shake things up.
And shake up things up they did with the Liberals sweeping to power, bringing with them an energy of optimism that has connected with the hopes of many Canadians in a way this country has not experienced in a very long time.
If you’re not Canadian, watch this hilarious and pretty accurate explanation of our election campaign by the amazing John Oliver. I love that an Englishman explains Canada to Americans.
We’re incredibly fortunate in this country that change in our government happens peacefully, mostly efficiently, and without too much disruption to the lives of the average citizen.
But what happens in your business when it comes to change?
- Do you panic, or embrace it?
- Do you fight it, or find ways to turn it into a new opportunity?
- Are your employees resentful, or do they pitch in to implement new policies?
- How about your customers? Do they jump ship, or value your innovation?
Improving how you negotiate change in all its forms will have a substantial impact on your business, your employees, and your customers.
Duh, change isn’t easy
Before we get into how to be more open to change, let’s just all admit that change can be scary. While change can deliver benefits it also delivers risk, and none of us has a 100% accurate crystal ball (hello, startup idea?) to assure you on how things will play out in the future.
Change can make us feel out of our comfort zone and unsteady about our own skills, decision making abilities, and competence. We like what we like and we don’t want that messed with. (Just look at the way users predict the end of the world whenever Facebook changes the newsfeed, or the notorious New Coke disaster )
Everybody views change differently in different situations. Acknowledging this and anticipating it can mean the difference between a successful transition and a free fall failure.
Let me be clear that sometimes change brings about some bad stuff and we can’t always positive-attitude our way out of it. But learning how to ride the waves, and helping those around you do the same, can help reduce negative fallout and even uncover opportunity.
Change or Die
We’re all familiar with the phrase but it can be easy to pass it off with an insincere “Yeah, yeah” without truly appreciating the simple, and undeniable, truth of it.
If we don’t change, whether as people or businesses, we will die. Or some aspect will.
Without change your business will never:
- Be seen as the leading expert in your industry because you’re not current on trends.
- Develop new products or services that could attract new customers and deepen loyalty with current customers.
- Grow talent on your team (either through hiring or training) that could improve your business.
- Expand to new markets
- Adapt to a changing customer market
- Be innovative
- Have any fun!
By being open to change, and truly participating in its implementation, your business can capitalize on these things, reaping new opportunities and growth.
So how do you embrace, trigger, and manage change?
Resistance is Futile
Whether you’re in the la-la land of good times, or mired in a negative situation, if you think that nothing will change then let me know how the floor feels when the rug is inevitably pulled out from under you. You won’t know what hit you and you won’t be able to recognize the opportunity in it.
"The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable."
- John F. Kennedy
Don’t be in denial about change. It happened, it’s happening, and it’s going to happen. Every second of every day, something is changing or should change. Recognizing this fact as reality will allow you to prepare for it, control some of its outcomes, and ride out any turbulence.
Nourish a culture of change
By demonstrating that your business is not only open to change but pursues it, you can inspire your employees to be more innovative, efficient, and proactive in the work they do.
Knowing that you are sincerely receptive to change will give your employees the confidence to bring forward new ideas that can improve your business. You should even create an expectation among employees that they produce new ideas.
Not only should you reward this behaviour in some way but you need to be sure that you pay more than just lip service. You need to follow through on implementation and show that change isn’t just for other people in the company - it can also apply to you, and your roles and responsibilities.
That’s not to say that you have to implement every idea that an employee brings forward but you do need to show that you considered it, that you listened to them and if it’s not something you want or are able to follow through on then you need to explain why not.
If customers know your company embraces change, that tells them you’re about progress, about improvement, and innovation. They’re going to consider you leaders in your field, and that if they need to know the latest about a new trend, they must to come to you.
Managing expectations is often the key factor in avoiding an unmitigated disaster when it comes to change.
Whether it’s your employees or your customers, explaining the benefits of the change and how it will affect them positively rather than just dropping it on them dictatorial style will directly affect both the adoption rate, and their attitude in the process.
If people understand how this new thing may make things better for them, they’re going to more open to it, and speak about it more positively to others.
If you’re making changes in your business, make sure you include the people on your team it most affects. Seek their input - it will help them feel part of the process and they may have valuable feedback that could improve it. If they feel some ownership they’ll be more receptive to adopting or promoting the change themselves.
When it comes to customers, properly communicating the changes that will affect their experience with your product or service can mean the difference between keeping them and losing them.
When you do makes changes, let your customers know and explain why. Why it’s better for them, whether in functionality, or price, or maybe how it will benefit their customers.
At Proposify, our customers know that we do a new release of our product every two weeks. Sometimes we fix bugs, implement a new feature, or improve functionality. And sometimes we take away a feature, for a variety of reasons.
By showing our customers we are open to change and constantly pursuing it, they know we’re committed to improving Proposify and their experience. They come to expect this; it gives them confidence in our intentions, and our product.
Look for opportunity
I’m not religious but I have always kind of liked that old expression “When God closes a door, he opens a window”. I believe we’re way more in control of our own destiny but the point is, regardless of who holds the reins, when something changes that may be challenging if you step back and look around a bit with a little different perspective, you can usually find a new way out, or through, in the case of the window.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
- Charles Darwin
Maybe you just lost a big client. That sucks, no doubt about it. But maybe servicing that big client was holding your company back from developing new and more profitable areas of your business.
Or maybe now you can go after that client’s competitor, the one you always wanted to work with, the one that’s slightly bigger, or more aligned with your services.
The word “pivot” has reached jargon status in the business world but there’s a lot to be said for being agile, open to change, and ready for the next thing rather than being defeated by it.
When’s the right time for change?
Don’t wait until your sales are drying up, your competition has left you in the dust, or for the economy to get better.
You need to be constantly assessing if there is a new and better way to do something. You need to have your eye on the horizon for what’s coming.
As much as possible you want to be in a position to act, as opposed to reacting. Otherwise you’ll always be behind the eight ball.
When Proposify’s founders, Kevin and Kyle had their agency, they waited too long to change and adapt. By the time Kyle started thinking about specializing in inbound marketing, a local competitor, Kula Partners, had already spent many months and mucho money restructuring to be HubSpot/inbound focused. (You can also listen to a very lively podcast interview we did with one of Kula’s co-founders, Carman Pirie)
But while Kevin and Kyle missed that opportunity by being slow to change, they started to focus on developing the early stages of Proposify and in the end sold Headspace to concentrate on the product full-time. “THAT change ended up being one of the best decisions we ever made,” says Kyle.
There are some situations where change is going to happen to you without your control. An industry change, economic change, a client change. While you can’t anticipate everything, there are some situations you may be able to prepare for. By having a plan in place for those eventualities, you’ll be better equipped to deal with them.
It’s also important to remember that not every change has to be earth shattering. Sometimes the smallest change can have the biggest impact so it’s important to look in the weeds as well as blue-skying things.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it...unless it makes it better
There is some truth to this expression, which is why I butchered it with my caveat. Don’t just change for the sake of change, otherwise you may throw the baby out with the bathwater (I am on a roll with these cliches).
Change because it will help more than it will hurt.
Change because you know there’s a problem and you want to fix it.
Change because you know you can do it better.