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6 steps to leading your small business through change

Friday, June 30, 2023

You know what they say: The only constant is change. And in today's fast-paced, competitive business environment, that has never rang more true.

Small businesses, in particular, must be agile and adaptive to stay competitive. But – as we’re sure you’re all too familiar with – implementing change can be challenging, and without proper change management strategies, it may lead to resistance, confusion and even failure.

Sounds grim, but don’t worry: We don’t want you to experience any of those things! So in this blog, we’ll explore the importance of change management within small businesses and give you some practical tips on championing change effectively.

1. Create a change-positive culture

Creating a change-positive culture is the foundation for successful change management within any small business, whether you run a four-employee clothing boutique or 100-employee boutique hotel. It starts with fostering open communication, transparency and trust among employees — from day one. Weaved into your initial training, you should encourage a growth mindset that embraces innovation and highlights change as an opportunity rather than a threat.

A growth mindset makes this possible because it encourages people to believe that their abilities, skills and performance can be developed and improved through dedication, effort and perseverance. It frees them from a fixed mindset, which assumes that personal qualities are static and cannot be changed.

As an employer, you can play a crucial role in fostering a growth mindset among your team by:

  • Educating employees on the difference between growth and fixed mindsets

  • Leading with feedback that focuses on opportunities for improvement instead of solely addressing shortcomings or mistakes

  • Emphasizing that setbacks and failures are opportunities for learning and development

  • Promoting a culture of continuous learning

  • Fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable taking certain risks and sharing ideas without fear of judgment or criticism

  • Celebrating hard work and progress along the way

Promoting a culture that values adaptability and continuous improvement sets the stage for successful change initiatives.

One woman presenting a proposal to two other people standing around a desk in a modern office space

2. Develop a compelling vision

The “why” behind any change has the power to rally employees around a new purpose. That’s why developing a compelling vision is crucial to inspire and guide your teams toward accomplishing a common goal. Tim Tebow, philanthropist and former NFL quarterback, knows a thing or two about how casting a vision is critical to achieving success. He shared his thoughts while stopping by The Entrepreneur’s Studio:

“The best coaches are the best leaders. They paint a picture of how the whole company is going to be better and how [their employees] are individually going to be better. I think that vision is so…important for [the] quality of work, but [also] for how they also buy in as a whole.”

Tim Tebow

So how do you get started?

Communicate the purpose behind any change you’re leading – be it an entire organization restructure or just a new piece of small business software – and incorporate your company’s values, missions and long-term goals into the new narrative. Next, paint a vivid picture of what the future could look like if the desired change is successfully implemented. Describe the positive outcomes they can expect to see in an inspirational way. And be specific: How will this change improve their experience at work, or even outside of it?

According to Tebow, your vision must help whomever you’re leading answer a few “why” questions:

  • Why should I buy in?

  • Why do I want to spend time on this?

  • Why do I want to potentially give away time with my family for this?

Make sure your vision is tangible and measurable. Break it down into smaller milestones and targets that can be tracked and achieved over time. Not only does this give employees a clear roadmap, but it allows them to see progress and celebrate successes on the way.

Lastly, encourage employee involvement and empowerment throughout the process. Provide opportunities for employees to vocalize their ideas, feedback and suggestions. Foster a culture of collaboration and co-creation where employees feel valued and have a sense of ownership and vision.

Four employees chatting in a circle in a retail stockroom

3. Build a strong change management team

As a small business, it’s crucial to assemble a dedicated change management team to guide the change process. This team should consist of individuals with strong leadership and communication skills, plus a deep understanding of the organization (so they probably have some tenure at your business).

Empower this team to lead by example and address employee concerns – or even resistance – with empathy. They should act as change agents and provide the support and resources necessary for a smooth transition.

The size of this team and its roles will depend on the size of your business and the scope of the change you’re leading. Here are some examples of a few key players, but keep in mind that if you have a small team, the same person may need to fill multiple positions:

ChangeIcons_changemanager

Change manager

Responsible for leading the overall effort, developing the strategy and coordinating the steps to implement the plan. If you’ve made it this far into this article, there’s a good chance you’re the one filling the change manager role.

ChangeIcons_subjectmatter

Subject matter experts

Have deep knowledge and expertise in the areas affected by the change. They should provide background context, guidance and input on the technical aspects of the change.

ChangeIcons_HR

Human resources representative

Focuses on employee relations, training and development, performance management and organizational development.

ChangeIcons_communicator

Communication specialist

Helps develop and execute a comprehensive communication plan to ensure everyone – internally and externally – understands what’s happening.

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Change champions

Radiate and influence enthusiasm, act as advocates, support their colleagues and help address any resistance or concerns.

Companies are 2.5 times more likely to financially outperform their peers when a good change management practice is in place.

Towers Watson

One person giving a presentation on a laptop to four coworkers sitting on a couch

4. Communicate effectively

Effective communication is the backbone of successful change management. Keep your employees informed throughout the change process by providing regular updates, sharing the rationale behind the change(s) and addressing any concerns or questions they may have.

Take advantage of multiple communication channels, such as team meetings, emails, newsletters and intranets to reach all employees. Encourage feedback and create opportunities for dialogue to ensure that everyone feels heard and understood.

Storytelling can also help you share your vision. According to Psychology Today, storytelling “immediately transports people to authentic experience” because that’s how our brains are designed to receive information.

“Stories are how we are wired. Stories take place in the imagination. To the human brain, imagined experiences are processed the same as real experiences. Stories create genuine emotions.”

Creating that experience for your team can go a long way toward getting everyone to buy into the change you want to make.

One chef holding a mobile kitchen POS and speaking to four other chefs in a restaurant kitchen

5. Provide training and support

62% of employees don’t like leaving their comfort zone

Forbes

Change often requires employees to learn new skills or adjust existing ones, and some anxiety may be tied to that. So, it’s critical that you show empathy and patience, and offer comprehensive training and resources to support employees through the transition.

Tailor the training to address their specific needs and questions and provide hands-on experiences whenever possible. Assign mentors or those change champions we mentioned earlier to provide ongoing support to their fellow teammates. Recognize and reward individuals who embrace and excel in the new ways of working so they can serve as positive examples and potential change champions.

ChangeIcons_changeinclusive

By elevating employees from across your company into change influencers, you can also tackle another essential element of effectively implementing change: collaboration and inclusivity.

Inclusion fosters a sense of ownership and empowers employees to take an active role in shaping the change. By involving employees, you tap into their knowledge, experience and creativity, ultimately leading to better outcomes and a smoother transition.

And those individuals who aren’t so quick to embrace change? Don’t give up on them. Set up time to meet one-on-one and get to the bottom of their resistance. Chances are they aren’t trying to be difficult — people fear change for many reasons. They may have had a poor experience with a similar situation in the past. They may be nervous about their future at your company and fear this initiative is only the beginning of many. Or perhaps they’re just creatures of habit, and change is inherently uncomfortable to them. Whatever the cause, identifying it will help you determine and communicate a path forward for the employee.

A man and woman sitting at a desk looking down at an iPad

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”
– Robin Sharma

6. Monitor progress and adapt

Making a change, no matter how big or small, cannot be a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. You must regularly assess the initiative’s progress and be prepared to make adjustments along the way. One way to do this is by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) and gathering feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of the change.

Here are some important KPIs to consider:

Employee adoption rate

Measures the percentage of employees who have embraced and adopted changes and shows engagement with and acceptance of new processes, systems or behaviors.

Employee satisfaction and engagement

You can find this information through surveys or feedback sessions. Using something simple like an employee net promoter score can be a simple way to get started and gauge your progress.

Return on investment (ROI)

This measurement should evaluate the financial impact of the change, such as cost savings, increased revenue or improved operational efficiency.

Be sure to address any issues promptly, celebrate milestones and communicate successes to maintain momentum and keep the team engaged. If you aren’t seeing the numbers you want, consider, well, making a change! Stay flexible and adapt the strategy if necessary. Lastly, always take new information or changing circumstances into account when refining your change initiative.

Two women smiling at each other, with one packaging a clothing order and the other on her laptop. There is a man sitting and sewing in the background.

Navigate any change with confidence

Championing change management within a small business requires a strategic approach prioritizing culture, communication and employee engagement. By embracing a change-positive culture, developing a compelling vision, building a solid change management team and providing support and training, you set the stage for successful change initiatives.

Remember, change is a journey, and by fostering collaboration, monitoring progress and adapting as needed, you can guide your small business toward success — with as little stress as possible.

For more insights to help you run and grow a remarkable business, join Tim Tebow and other inspiring guests in The Entrepreneur’s Studio.


Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at heartland.us