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All change

The New Year brings new impetus to make changes to our businesses and time is of the essence.

The New Year is a time for new starts and fresh beginnings but implementing change either in our personal or business lives is never easy.

Even when we know what has to be done and why, we find changes in our business difficult to implement. We also have the challenge of taking others with us. Sometimes, the changes seem too enormous or difficult to contemplate and we never seem able to get started or find ways to justify staying as we are.

If we had the drive and motivation to go through the pain, we would have made the changes already. Indeed, most change only takes place when we absolutely have to (survival) rather than when we feel it would be right to (opportunistic).

The first step is to identify what needs changing. This is the time of year to step back, maybe with the help of others, and look where the business is heading. What are the trends? What are the sources of your revenue streams? What is happening to your cost base and profit? What are the consequences of not changing?

Then take a blank sheet of paper and write down what you want to achieve from your business in the coming year and beyond. Articulate a vision for your ideal business. What would success look like for your key stakeholders, including employees and customers. Without a clear vision, the motivation for change is diluted and best efforts soon falter. Ensure your goals are realistic and achievable within the given timescale.

Having established where you are now and where you want to be, it is important you engage your people to help you in getting there. You need to be prepared to invest the time it takes for people to be as comfortable with the changes as you are.

Be aware that it may have taken you some time to come to your own conclusions and it is unfair to expect staff to be on board immediately.

During any change, communication is key. Ensure you not only explain the need for change and why you have chosen the particular course of action but also what other options were considered and why they have been discounted. Ideally, get as many of your key employees as possible involved in shaping your ideas.

Now you know what you are doing and why, ensure you have the capability to implement the desired changes. This means carrying out a rigorous and candid assessment of the key resources, skills, knowledge, systems and processes that are required to achieve the vision. Without adequate resources, people can become frustrated and angry. If the resource deficiency is skill-based, ensure you have adequate development plans in place to address it.

If there is much to be done, it is important to prioritise and identify quick wins, that is, those changes that have an immediate and positive impact. This approach will also create the time and cash to move on to the next stage of development. Sometimes you may identify certain activities and costs that are incurred which add little or no extra value to the business. Redeploying these resources and reinvesting them in developing other areas is a good tactic.

The first steps you make should be relatively easy ones to execute as this builds confidence and momentum around the changes you want to make.

I highlight the need to take time out to think and plan your evolution properly but do not wait until everything is absolutely perfect to start to effect the changes. Time is of the essence. It is the one resource we do not get any more of. It is important to make a start and what better time of the year to do so.

Perhaps this year’s resolution should be: “I will embrace the need for change and learn to implement and manage change more effectively.”

Simon Olive is a senior business consultant at Axa.

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