Changing the way things are done at work, or, at a higher level, pivoting the direction of a company entirely, is never easy. It's especially difficult when you're working for a multi-generation, family-owned business in which some leaders have amassed years of experience doing things in the same ways. Take it from Alex Mehran Jr., president and COO of real estate development and management company Sunset Development in San Ramon, California, home to the East Bay's largest commercial development, Bishop Ranch.

Mehran's grandfather started the company in 1951, building thousands of homes in a series of master-planned communities, later buying Bishop Ranch with Mehran's father and developing 4.5 million square feet of office space on the property. Today, Mehran is spearheading something new: $1.5 billion in projects that will turn Bishop Ranch into a mixed-use community with retail shops and apartments.

Here's his advice on how to make change happen in any organization that's been doing things the same way for too long.

1. Find ways to innovate while respecting your company's history.

Identify changes that will make things better, not just different. In selling your idea, leverage the trust your organization has in you as a decision maker.

2. Have a clear and measurable vision.

This means identifying not only what your business is trying to achieve in the grand scheme of things but having a measurable plan so you know what tactics are succeeding, and which ones are not. Essentially, you can't back up your rationale for making changes if you can't prove what isn't working. "Analyze what your plan was and how it was received in the market and what led to its success or failure," Mehran says.

3. Invest in a strong support team.

To grow a business you need to delegate work to people you can trust--individuals who buy into and support your vision. A strong team will help build momentum and consensus while mitigating the toxicity that can sometimes emerge with change.

4. Never stop asking questions and learning.

A culture of continuous improvement is one that values humility and a quest for knowledge. "The more you ask questions, communicate and are transparent, the more likelihood you have of team members buying into the change and understanding the change," Mehran says. "If you don't have buy-in on something, it's helping sow the seeds of failure."

Published on: Jul 6, 2015