OK, January is one week old and what changes have you made? What, you haven’t done anything yet? What are you waiting for?
Seriously, I am already a little sick of the expectations thrust upon all of us (even though some of that thrusting has been self-inflicted). Change became the “it” word last year, loaded with hope and promise. And yet, here we are, eight days into 2009, and everything is the same as it was last December and we’re not satisfied. President-elect Obama hasn’t even been sworn in yet and people are already grousing that he’s not offering enough change.
Instant gratification has become an American obsession. And I’m not just talking about politics; this “I want it and I want it now” attitude has infiltrated every part of our lives. Most entrepreneurs are not really known for their patience to begin with, so we have to be particularly careful here. I’ve actually known business owners who got angry because the new strategies they enacted on Tuesday didn’t bring the desired results by Thursday morning. Or they pull the magazine ad they ran because it didn’t provide a big boost in sales — after one month. Or they didn’t get rich quick enough, despite the promise that they would.
Does this hit a little too close to home? It may not be your fault; many entrepreneurs seem hardwired for results-on-demand. But you have to temper this natural inclination with a healthy dose of reality. When you make unreasonable demands on your staff or even yourself, you’re bound to be disappointed. What’s worse, though, is that this impatience could destroy your business — or, at least, put a serious dent in it.
When you implement new strategies, you need to build in a realistic timetable before you start measuring results. If you pull an ad campaign before it’s had a chance to work (conventional wisdom says an ad needs to be viewed at least three times before people really notice it), then you’ve thrown away your original investment. And you’ve gained (and learned) nothing. Outside of lottery winners, no one really gets rich overnight.
Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. Change is good. In fact, I think change is necessary for any business to survive, especially in times like these. But as the old saying goes, you can’t make change for the sake of change. Change is not, as many mistakenly believe, spontaneous. Change needs to be planned, reasoned, and then measured. Doing this will not alter the effect of change, it will only make it more effective.
So how do you start making changes in your business? First you need to get buy-in from your staff. The key to success here is including them in the process rather than forcing it upon them. If your employees seem to fear change, understand that what they’re really reacting to is the fear of the unknown, not the transformation itself. Identifying and defining the problem is step one. Then you need to come up with possible solutions, understanding there is more than one path to change.
This is not the time to stifle input. You need to create an atmosphere where staffers feel free to voice their opinions, and even question the need for the changes. Overcoming their reservations at this stage will ultimately enable you to more easily implement your final solutions.
Ultimately, this is your responsibility. It’s up to you to create the atmosphere where change is welcomed, not feared. Once new practices or procedures are enacted, it’s your job to lead by example. You need to show that you endorse and embrace the changes. And, when applicable, you must back up your plan with the necessary resources. Nothing undermines your efforts faster than claiming that change is imperative and then not adequately supplying the money, manpower, and whatever else is needed to implement the change.
To bring this full circle, make sure your expectations are reasonable. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Monitor and measure your results and stay flexible. Because if there’s one thing we entrepreneurs know to be true, it’s that, as famed British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Change is inevitable … change is constant.”
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