Imagine this scenario:managing organizational change

As owner/CEO of a small company, you and your team have been coping with difficult economic pressures but it’s clear that keeping the business afloat isn’t enough. There is enough revenue from existing customers to pay overhead and salaries. However, developing new products has been slow and it’s clear to you that the current business model is unsustainable, particularly if the economy goes into another recession.

Earlier in the year, you and your team hashed out what the ideal customer looks like. It’s clear to you, as the leader, that the organization is going to have to change if you work with this ideal customer. When you try to have this conversation with your staff, Jane expresses concern that the easygoing collegial feeling will go away and it will feel “just like any other business.” Bob wants to know what your vision is and why it has to change now. He asks, “It’s all well and good that we’ve identified that we want to work with Big Firm in Nearby City but what’s wrong with our current customers?” Other staff members say nothing. Fred has made it clear that he thinks you are nice but too unrealistic to take the company to a more sophisticated stage.

Making this transition isn’t easy for anyone.

As anyone who has led a business will tell you, there has to be a process to managing change or the organization will become (more) dysfunctional. In larger organizations, it is easier to assign roles and tasks to the C-level team. However, in smaller organizations, the process is much more intimate.

Basic model of managing organizational change

1. What needs to change? Without identifying what is outdated, wrong or broken, there is no compelling pain or impetus to do something new.

2. Why now? Making changes without a reason is basically shooting an arrow into the wind and hoping it hits the target.  There are so many other questions to ask but it can be summed up as “why is it important now?”

3. What is getting in the way? These barriers can be internal and external. People’s attitudes, market conditions and a host of other things can be obstacles.

4. How can we overcome these barriers? Identifying the strengths of the organization and the individuals involved can provide solutions to removing any obstacles. Couple this with identifying weaknesses and figuring out ways to manage or eliminate these and you will find people are more likely to cooperate.

5. Measuring the change process. Like everything else about your SME, how do you know if it is working? Taking the time as a team to set up milestones gives you two benefits. First, change is big and you’re not going to make it all happen overnight. One step at a time is a good perspective. Second, you can adapt the plan as needed to make the change process successful for everyone.

But…we’re back to our original question. Who gets to manage change in SME’s?

In the opening paragraph, I gave you a scenario. It’s actually a composite of the change projects I’ve done with my coaching clients. Time and time again,  identifying which person will inhabit specific roles, who facilitates the process, who has ultimate responsibility and availability of unanimous support for the change project are essential.

What did you notice about this organization in the scenario?

If you were the leader, what kind of conversation would you have with your team? Why?

When would the business owner/CEO of an SME not be ultimately responsible for a change project?

What level of responsibility would you assign to the team members and/or employees?

When is it most beneficial to bring in a consultant/coach to assist with the change project?


This was a topic on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz (formerly #KaizenBlog) on Friday, September 2nd. Please consider yourself invited to join our discussion. If you can’t make the chat, add your comments, thoughts and opinions here.

 *I wanted to cite who created the drawing used as a graphic for this post. However, I wasn’t able to find the origin of the drawing. I found it on the site for the Christ Church Northern Beaches. My apologies to the artist.

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, executive coach and trainer who guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives to be comfortable in their own skin. Change can be growing your business, expanding in the US or adapting to a new leadership roles. Visit my Services page to see how we can work together or schedule your complimentary coaching session here.