Change is an ever-present component of business ownership. The ability for business owners to effectively manage change lays the groundwork for growth and helps build the foundation for the development of a positive corporate culture. Unfortunately, the vast majority of business change initiatives fail—an estimated 80 percent to 85 percent, according to the authors of The New York Times best-selling book Influencer and the forthcoming Change Anything. The good news is, you can reverse those odds by focusing on a few key points in your own approach to change management.

The authors are the four cofounders of VitalSmarts, a corporate training and organizational performance consulting firm that developed a model honored by Sloan Management Review as the Change Management Approach of the Year in 2009. They claim, and their research backs it up, that companies that focus on four of six specific "influence sources" in combination increase their chances of corporate change success tenfold. The six sources of their Influencer model include:

  • Love what you hate (i.e., learn to disarm your impulses and make the right choices pleasurable).
  • Do what you can't. Recognize the important role skills play in creating and managing change, then acquire the skills you lack.
  • Eliminate the bad habits and choices that undermine your change efforts and the people (accomplices) who abet your bad decisions.
  • Cultivate those who support your efforts to start and sustain good change habits (friends). "Eliminate a few accomplices, and add as few as two new friends to your influence strategy, and your odds of success increase as much as 40 percent," says Joseph Grenny, cofounder and cochairman of VitalSmarts.
  • Invert the economy. "Reverse incentives by bribing yourself to change. It works," Grenny says. "You can also reverse costs by raising the price of bad behavior."
  • Control your space. Learn to use distance, cues, and tools in your favor to take control of your environment.

Matthew McCreight, managing partner at Schaffer Consulting, which specializes in the development and practice of organizational and cultural change, says the key to successful change management is building capacity and capability into the company's culture and human resources. In 50 years of studying change in organizations, the firm has identified "immense hidden potential for better performance right now" in most of them, he says. "The challenge is how to tap into that resource, and how to get people growing and keep them growing."

It is important to structure change management plans so they have short-term consequences, no matter how long-term the ultimate goal might be. "You almost have to reverse engineer it," he says. "If your goal is to increase sales by a certain amount or cut production times by x percent 18 months from now, what do you have to accomplish by the three-month mark, by the six-month mark, etc., to get there? The toughest thing is getting started. It's your job as a leader of the organization to build a vision of the future, figure out how to tap the tremendous potential within your business, and then drive toward that vision."

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