“It’s a Business Decision” – A Primer On Managing Change for Small Businesses

'Open Sign' photo (c) 2010, Brian Hawkins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ “It’s a business decision”.

I’ve heard that blasted statement twice lately. Once in a personal situation and once in situation that was less personal, but impacted me none-the-less. One business handled things well. The other? Well, let’s just say there was room for improvement.

We say “it’s a business decision” as though that statement wipes away all the pain of the change. It doesn’t. It’s an attempt to depersonalize the situation. It’s not about you, it’s about growing “The Business”, making it successful, making more money, serving a different audience. None of these things are wrong per se.

The problem, especially in consumer focused businesses is that it IS personal. Businesses spend a lot of time building relationships, engaging their audience and growing a community. It’s that kind of warm fuzzy feeling that encourages customer loyalty and the best, least expensive form of advertising, word of mouth endorsements. Then the business makes a decision to change their offerings, change course or change personnel. POOF! The warm fuzzy feeling is gone.

So what am I saying, that businesses should never change? Never grow? Psssh of course not. It’s all in how you as a business owner handle the change.

Communicate Communicate Communicate

It’s important to communicate honestly and sincerely about the change. In some circumstances it’s best to provide advanced warning. Give people a chance to warm up to the idea of a new service offering or a new teacher. If possible ask for input from those who will be affected.

Some circumstance require you to share the news quickly, like ripping off a Band Aid®. Sometimes it’s just not possible to consult those who will be impacted. The key is knowing your audience, viewing the change from their perspective and communicating. Remember you might be over the moon about the change, but  your patrons might not share your excitement.

Respect Customers’ Feelings

Change is hard for most people, especially if they are heavily invested in the community you’ve built. Those impacted by the change may have strong feelings. Respect them. Remind people that the change isn’t personal and encourage them to try the new program, or service.

Honor the past

Ceremony (even a small one) allows us to mark the time and provides a sense of closure. The temptation is to ignore the sadness, and anger that comes with change, but acknowledging it and facing it head on leaves everyone with a better feeling in the end.

Is a well loved staffer moving on to bigger and better things? Invite customers to sign a card or have a small going away party. No longer offering a specific service? Send customers a quick list of highlights, thank them for their patronage and invite them to transition to the new offering.

Move on

It’s important to be respectful, but don’t dwell. Assuming you’ve made the decision with the best interests of the business in mind. It’s important not to waiver. Don’t give the impression that if people complain enough things will go back to the old way. Hear people out, but gently remind them that this is your business. You’ve enjoyed their patronage but if the new scenario isn’t going to work for them, it’s ok if they find another provider.

Rebuild

It is inevitable with change that some customers will leave. You can’t please everyone and for your business to succeed and thrive, you have focus on meeting the needs of your target audience. It’s hard to see them go, but wish them well and focus on those who’s needs you can serve best.

Change is hard, but with a little effort, it possible to execute it with minimal hard feelings and maximum growth.

 

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