Those of us who work with companies to help them do things better know one thing for certain: We are only messengers of change. We can offer new ideas and share what others have done in similar situations. We can offer a path to transform a company into a customer-driven, customer-focused enterprise. But we cannot bring about the change. Change must come from within a company.
Until someone recognizes the imperative for change, it will not happen. Unless someone sees an immediate benefit to the headaches that accompany change, it will not happen. Finally, unless someone has the vision to see how change will make things better in the long run, it will not happen.
We are all comfortable with the status quo. Ask yourself how often you change the color of the outside of your house—not too often, I bet. What about the color of your bedroom walls? Perhaps you change it more frequently, but not often. Maybe we really are creatures of habit. We may not think of change at all. If that is the case, we need to periodically force ourselves to consider change, because if we do not, it will not happen.
Thinking about change must be the first step. Consider changing the way you do something. Think about the impact of such a change in terms of service to your customers, cost containment, impact on your workforce, quality and future growth of your company. If the change seems to make sense in light of these factors, take it a step further.
Envision the time and effort involved in bringing about the change. It may be a great idea, but if it cannot be implemented in time to make a significant contribution, perhaps you’ll have to let it go. On the other hand, you may find the change to be relatively easy. Perhaps employees can manage the change and are ready to meet the challenge.
The next step is to develop a plan to implement the change. It is OK to start out with a rough-cut plan, because you need something to get you started. You can always add more detail as you gage how things are progressing. Along with the plan, you will need a realistic timetable. If the timetable is too fast, it could disrupt operations and jeopardize customer service. If it is too slow, the plan will lose momentum and support.
A critical step comes next: deciding who, from within the organization, will drive the change. In small companies, it is often the owner, or president, but it does not always have to be, and it may actually be better if it is not. Someone with knowledge and experience in the organization, along with a demonstrated ability to get things done, is the ideal candidate to bring about change. In some companies, this might be a department head or someone in a support role. This driver of change will need to make critical assignments to others. This requires negotiation and delegation skills. The ability to communicate progress, both good and bad, is also a necessary skill.
Finally, it is time to execute the plan. If you have come this far and don’t execute the plan, then you have wasted your time. This is not the time to reevaluate the idea. On the contrary, it is essential to show confidence at this point in the process. You have already put time and effort into planning what you thought was a worthwhile change, so unless a drastic situation has occurred in your company or industry, keep going. The purpose of the change—to make things better—must be the driving force. Everyone must understand that the sooner the change comes about, the sooner the benefits will be realized.
Change must happen, and it can be very rewarding. Anyone who doubts this needs only to think about the cars we are driving and the computers we are using.