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Big Changes are for Small Businesses Too

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People tend to think that big changes are rare. Or maybe they just thought so. Think about some of the major changes that have impacted the world in the last few decades. Think about the planes before and after September 11, 2001. Or what was it like to eat at a restaurant before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic?

These events radically and abruptly changed the way we lived. This, of course, has meant a dramatic impact on how we run our business. We have all had to adjust to these things in our personal and professional lives. It didn’t matter how much you planned these messes.

During the first 20 years of my career, I spent countless hours designing programs and dealing with major changes. Our plan was based on principles that reflected best practices from multiple disciplines. This included business, communication, psychology, and how adults learn new processes and systems. Most of those beliefs are true. But our way of thinking about managing change today basically reflects that this is a core management skill, not a one-off program or event.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a discussion with Stacey Harris, Chief Research Officer at Sapient Insights. We discussed how the business of managing change has evolved over the past decade. This transformation has been facilitated by a faster pace of change in all aspects of work. Then it was overheated by the dramatic changes brought about by the pandemic. The instability of daily work has become the new normal.

How is change management different for small businesses?

Simply put, the practice of change (or migration) management is building the ability of a group of individuals to “stick” new changes. This means building understanding, awareness and consent of those affected. This means building the skills and knowledge needed to perform in new ways.

SMEs face different challenges than large companies. It cannot be denied. Fortunately, many of the lessons learned from large companies are still valuable to companies of all sizes.

Definition of success

The overall success of any transformation program lies in having a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and how you will measure success. Your definition here should definitely include financial, sales, efficiency, or other “hard” metrics.

Equally important is to consider interim milestones and value delivered, and to measure the success of change initiatives (e.g., employee dissatisfaction due to team being caught off guard).

Understand who is affected

This may sound simple at first, but I encourage my clients to think about the unintended consequences. Check upstream for changes from suppliers or other teams. Look to your downstream customers and internal support teams. Think about what specifically changed and how that change affects each group.

Also consider creating a table with notes on the assumptions you are making about each group. Also include the magnitude of that change and how each group receives it. Knowing where your “high impact” and “potential resistance” areas can help you narrow down how you plan your message and give those groups the support they need.

Seek an opinion from a trusted advisor first

I can guarantee that each person (or group) will have a different point of view. These stakeholders can also provide additional insights to help understand impacts and other considerations. This could be your management team, your HR lead, or the leader in the area you think will be most impacted.

Together with this group, develop a “business case for change” that includes the overall business value of the change (risks associated with inaction) and how this change supports the company’s overall strategy.

Recruit Hero

To successfully implement change, you need allies to help lead the change. The priority here is to be confident that the changes you are making are the correct ones. You also need to have a solid understanding of the implications for stakeholders. With that information, now is the time to get some of these stakeholders in the loop and ask for their feedback.

Select a few representatives from the affected areas and bring them together to test the change-related messages and rationale. Continue to improve your communication plan based on their feedback. These “change champions” should be considered both microphones and speakers. They are “online” to help support the communication you need to make and will be a rich source of feedback from your organization.

Create a communication plan

Creating a communication strategy sounds complicated, but it really starts with creating a list. What do you want to say? Who do you want to tell it to? when will i contact you And how do you do that?

Don’t forget the “hidden” opportunities to reinforce your message. For example, you can pass points and materials to your leader. Share headlines at company meetings. You can also provide champions with FAQs and ways to answer tough questions. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your successes along the way to keep the momentum going.

Anticipate resistance

Science tells us whenever we need to change old patterns, the areas of our brain that activate are the same areas associated with pain. We all know that changing your ways is uncomfortable. While rationalizing that change makes sense, this is rarely enough to sell permanent change.

Viewers usually follow a predictable pattern that begins with denial and anger at change. They are frustrated with what they don’t understand or don’t know how to change. The best change management programs anticipate these stages and structure communication, engagement, and training activities to help team members navigate the different stages of change.


Change is never easy. We all value stability and routines in order to be proficient and successful. But change is inevitable, healthy, and essential to the survival of businesses of all sizes. A business change management plan doesn’t have to be a comprehensive 100-page document in a binder.

However, you should have a strong sense of why this change needs to be made and how it will affect everyone in your organization. You should also be able to articulate these details in a way that anticipates their concerns and gains buy-in. Change management is about changing processes and details. That’s true, but don’t forget, it can also change the way you think.

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