All growing businesses experience the need for change as they evolve. This might include the way they deliver their products and services to customers, financial and organizational restructuring, new software, new people, better data, shedding old habits, developing a more mature corporate culture...the list goes on and on.
When businesses fail to recognize the need for change they hit a wall and remain stagnant, and may eventually fail. But when the leadership has the foresight to understand that adaptation is necessary, the business has the opportunity to get to the next level. Usually, by the time action is taken, change has been needed for a long time.
Transforming a business in order to create a more scalable, efficient and profitable organization doesn't happen overnight. Our digital marketing agency has been blessed with rapid growth over the past seven years, landing on the Inc. 500|5000 four years in a row. But with that growth has come the inevitable challenges.
A couple years ago we started realizing that we were outgrowing our old systems and processes. We needed to shed our skin and blossom into a more mature organization that could really scale to the level that fits our vision. Our industry changes rapidly as is, so combine that with rapid growth and you have a potentially volatile situation waiting to implode.
The changes needed were dramatic and much time was taken just getting buy-in from everyone at the top. We brought in outside consultants to provide a new perspective and developed a game plan. The plan involved totally restructuring the business, new departments, centralized project management, new software, time tracking tools (yes, time tracking tools!), replacing our entire finance and accounting team, removing the wrong clients, a new sales and marketing strategy, and a shift in our strategic approach to digital marketing in general.
As one can imagine, tackling all of these activities simultaneously caused a bit of turmoil. It took consistent and transparent communication coupled with aggressive follow-through to drive these efforts forward. It wasn't perfect and turnover increased during that period of time, which was anticipated. But the result was a better company focused on our team, clients, and our clients' customers.
Fear had to be managed in an empathetic manner. Here are seven ways entrepreneurs and leaders can manage fear during times of change.
Acknowledge that fear exists. Empathy is a key factor in emotional intelligence which is imperative for effective leadership. Taking the team's feelings into account, especially when making decisions, plays a big role in managing fear. Actively acknowledging that fear exists and letting the team know what measures are being taken will make them feel safe. If they feel safe, they will stay focused on their objectives.
Be strong for your team. You don't have to act like a robot but I've found that remaining calm under pressure beats panic every time. Panic is wildly contagious. Have the big debates with other senior leaders behind closed doors, get aligned, and then communicate what needs to be said in a positive manner. This also goes back to understanding your own emotional intelligence and ability to control or redirect your disruptive emotions. Embodying confidence is key.
Listen and get feedback. Don't assume the team at the top has all the answers. The chances are that many of the things that need to change have been already identified by the others months ago. Schedule one-on-one meetings with key team members and ensure they do the same with those that report to them. Collect and analyze the data then use this as a foundation for your game plan.
Allow the team to influence the process. Put the issues on the table and allow the team to influence the process for making improvements. Once you have received detailed feedback from your team and have developed the framework of a plan, communicate what that plan is and the team's role in executing that plan. In our case, some of that directive came from outside consultants which played a pivotal role in understanding our true efficiencies.
Over-communicate. Again, leading a company through times of adaptive change can be long and arduous. And like any other plan, things change. You won't get everything right the first time. For example, we spent months selecting a new agency software only to realize we had chosen the wrong one soon after beginning the rollout. That set us back. Use all means possible to make information regarding changes available to all employees. Communication must be transparent, timely and factual.
Focus on the positives. At some point during a transformation a time comes when focusing on the past is a waste of time. Once you begin moving down this path, the focus must shift to the positive outcomes that will result from this somewhat stressful time. Business must go on. Keep doing great work and rewarding the team for their accomplishments.
These are good problems to have. If the need for managing change doesn't exist, the business probably isn't growing. And that's alright too. It depends on the vision of the company. But if change is needed, don't wait. Take aggressive action and enjoy the fruits of that labor.