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How to keep your head and cope with change in your business

June 24, 2016

Whether you’re in the early start-up phase or you’ve been around a while – running a business will inevitably mean coping with change.

This could be the need to deal with new regulations, an ageing customer base, a new competitor, or even your company growing and expanding faster than you planned. Whatever it is – you’ll need to be able to keep your head and deal with new developments.

Our minds have a preference for the predictable – our primitive ancestors had a much better chance of staying alive if things stayed stable. We might want excitement (our ancestors did love the thrill of the chase), but we naturally want it on our terms, not someone else’s.

So how do we support change that will help us and our business evolve and grow while dealing with the feeling of being threatened by it?

Rudyard Kipling had it right – if you can keep your head under times of pressure, you can achieve anything.

I’m involved in two organisations that are going through change. In one I’m running a transformation programme for a small business shifting from government contracts to more private sector work. In the other, I’m a volunteer leader in Toastmasters International, responsible for an expanding district of 140 speaker clubs and 3,500 members – and some growing pains.

In both organisations, people are trying to get their heads around what the changes planned mean to them. Therefore, I find myself wanting to help people cope with the change they are faced with, and help change leaders get support.  My advice is to connect with purpose, values and objectivity.

The Purpose protection

What is key for any change is that it is consistent with the purpose of the organisation and that we protect that purpose.

For example, for Toastmasters it is to grow our membership and maintain strong clubs.  In both cases there is a balance to be had – we need to drive the change while making sure that there are strong foundations to support it. Too much change, the foundations become weak.  Too little change and the foundations decay.

For anyone facing proposals for change, they need to make a judgement about whether the amount proposed is “just right” and whether it will serve our purpose now and in the future.

Anyone delivering the change needs to make sure that they constantly evaluate whether they have that balance right, not just at the beginning but throughout the process.

The Values compass

People who are normally positive, encouraging and supportive can temporarily transform at times of change to negative, aggressive and angry. It’s understandable for sure, but it can make it hard to make the changes happen together.

Worse still, the effects of that response in the short term can damage relationships and potential for the long term – what a waste.

I think the trick here is to stay connected with your values. I once was going through a pretty tough time myself in a time of change and mentioned it to a friend. She said something that has stayed with me ever since.  She asked me “who are you going to be in the face of all of that?”.

I suddenly dawned on me that I was letting the situation affect the kind of behaviour and feelings I wanted to bring into the situation. I checked in with the values like service, integrity and respect that mattered to me and I realised I could use them as a compass through challenging times.

A strong change programme will not just focus on the details of the thing to be delivered, like processes and systems. It will also clarify and explore how the values of the organisation and the people relate to the change.

Individuals facing change can use their own values, the kind of person they want to be as their guide on how to react and approach the change. With values, when the inevitable challenging times come, we have a compass to take us to where, and how, we want to be.

The Objectivity objective

As soon as someone makes a proposal to make something change it is our natural instinct to evaluate it.  We have some choices to make as to the information that we use to make that evaluation.

It is our tendency to do two things – consider how it effects our status quo and listen to the loudest voices around us. The problem is that if we truly want to make an objective evaluation we need more information than that.

Firstly, we have to look beyond our short term status quo. Change is disruptive, uncertain and we can’t be sure it’s going to deliver the results that are hope for.

If we keep our heads, we can consider the vision and the steps that are planned to take us there. We have to be open to the possibility that not all steps of the journey need to be mapped out yet for it to be a good destination, and that we might not enjoy all the steps.

We have to consider if results can be delivered. Most importantly consider how much more likely those results are going to be achieved if we ourselves get on board.

There is a tricky thing here of course – not all plans are good, not all changes will succeed and there is no point in mindless agreement just because we want to be seen to be helpful. The key here is to evaluate, question and seek to improve the plan where we can.

Secondly, we have to be careful about the strong voices. It’s very easy to come up with reasons why something that doesn’t exist yet will never succeed.

It’s very easy to come up with compelling conspiracy theories. They could, of course, be right – we can’t eliminate that possibility. So it’s up to us to keep our heads about us, to actively evaluate those criticisms and theories for ourselves, and make our own judgement.

To support all of this, change leaders need to make sure as much information is shared and that concerned voices are listened to and responded to respectfully. That way those who are hearing the message have a chance of being objective about it!

Keeping our heads about us

I know it’s hard to keep your head when all around you is change. I deliver change for a living and I constantly have to remember to keep my own head!

I hope these three things will help you next time you need to deal with change in your business. May purpose, values and objectivity help you keep your head when change is all about you.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Jean Gamester. Jean is founder and director of consulting business, Semaphora, where she delivers change programmes and helps organisations to make change happen. She is also a volunteer leader with Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.

Jean is a regular contributor to ByteStart, and her other articles include;

More help on successfully starting up

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