As an entrepreneur, its pretty much guaranteed that, at some point or another, you’ll need to make changes to your business.
Unfortunately, this can be pretty daunting, particuarly if you began your business with a strong sense of purpose – a purpose you’re wary of unwittingly sacrificing.
Whether you’re comfortable or uncomfortable, thriving or falling flat, you’ve likely put a lot of time, effort and thought into the development of your venture.
But often making changes to your business is necessary, practical and rewarding.
So how can we best manage these changes? And, for those of us who are driven by purpose rather than simple, tangible profits, how can we be sure we don’t sacrifice those goals along the way?
These are questions I’ve been wrangling with myself recently, so in today’s blog post I’d like to share my best hints, tips and advice to those who find themselves in the same boat.
Take Your Time
Its important to remember when you’re considering making changes to your business that often, it takes time to gain momentum, it takes time for ideas to settle and it takes time to form supportive structures and processes.
As cliché as it sounds, we are often our own worst critics. It’s all too easy to find yourself in a moment of panic, desperately flipping switches and pushing buttons to try and regain your sense of control.
This is not the mindset with which to be making changes to your business.
So when you first feel those little inklings that something’s not quite right, try to remain as objective and rational as possible. Stand strong in the face of your fears, and make sure you aren’t making decisions based purely on poorly evidenced fears.
Or when your mind first starts spinning out new ideas, consider carefully whether you’ve really given your initial ones the opportunity they deserved.
Changes to your business ought not be made rashly. These changes could have profound effects not just on your own life, but on those of your various stakeholders. While your gut feeling can often help you find your right path, there’s nothing wrong with taking the time and care to ensure its best informed to do so.
Examine the Problem
Your next point of call in making changes to your business should be to gain an in-depth, thorough understanding of where the issues lie.
Why is it that you need to explore a new route? Why do you need to adjust your model? What limitations will your add-ons accommodate, what disease will your pruning eliminate?
I firmly believe that true solution can only be developed through real awareness and critique of the problem at hand.
So try to look beyond the obvious, see below the surface, and question all apparent answers.
For example, I’ve recently found myself under a great deal of stress, which has had a harsh impact on my mental health and my ability to manage not only Waggle Dancers, but other aspects of my life as well.
At its vaguest, I could simply blame this on my lack of free time. Working a full-time day job, keeping up with life’s errands, it all adds up and any external perspective could tell me that I’ve had too much on my plate.
Yet that’s not the real issue. The real issue is the pressure I’ve put on myself by committing to consistencies when the rest of my life is inconsistent. Its the feelings of failure and anxiety of having promised regularities when my time and resources are anything but regular.
The real issue lies also in some of the more practical decisions I’ve made, in my commitment to technologies which, frankly, I’m no good at using. This means wasted time, alongside additional stress and frustration.
Gaining a better understanding of the problems I need to solve has enabled me to come up with simple solutions, small changes which I can make that will allow me to navigate these problems effectively. If, on the other hand, I had acted on my first realisation that things weren’t quite working for me, I probably would have scrapped the lot.
Examining the problem is about understanding the very core of what’s constraining your business. Often, this means practicing a high degree of self-awareness and reflection on your own limitations.
Know that this is okay. Your limitations are not ‘failures’, any compromises are not made through weakness, and pursuit of further reward is not some crime of greed.
Rather, you are simply acknowledging your own needs. Your business needs to work for you just as much as you need to work for it. If you yourself are not fulfilled, purposeful and satisfied, then nor can your business be.
As they say, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
To maintain the true purpose for which you started your business, you must be willing and able to visualise its opportunities and face, head-on, the obstacles in their way.
Fix the Goal Posts
For those of us who begin a business with a sense of real purpose, rather than simply to chase profits, its important to ensure that any changes we might make don’t compromise that vision.
If you set out with a dream to change the World only to reconfigure your venture into something unrecognisable then neither you nor your dream will be fulfilled.
Any problem you wanted to solve will continue to dissatisfy you, the innovation you imagined will go unrealised, and whatever it was that made YOU decide that YOU were the one to do this will linger on.
That said, it is possible to make changes to your business without sacrificing its purpose. You simply have to solidify your goalposts.
Just as I encouraged you to critically analyse any problems you might be facing, I now suggest critically analysing your purpose.
Purposeful business is borne from values, that inner sense of what’s right and wrong, what could be and what should be.
The purpose of your business is not within its inputs, activities, or even its outputs. The purpose of your business is represented by its outcomes.
Allow me to explain what this means.
Your business’s inputs are the direct resources it requires to function, such as your time, finances or practical skills.
Its activities are what you do in the day to day, everything from supply chain management to distribution, marketing, provision of services and so on. Your business’s activities include the entirety of your operations.
Outputs are the direct, tangible and immediate results of your activities. This could be your eco-friendly products, which minimise waste and promote durability. It could be the message you send and awareness you raise, the size of donation you’re able to give, the number of trees you’re able to plant, or the new jobs your business creates.
Outcomes may sound similar to outputs, but they’re on a whole different level. Your business’s outcomes are where you’ll find your true purpose realised.
Outcomes are more difficult to quantify. They’re the indirect, widespread, long-term impact your business creates.
Following on from the examples given above, your outcomes could be the reduction of pollution or environmental destruction. They could be the movement you inspire, wellbeing you provide, the clean air and reduced emissions you facilitate, or the lives you lift free from poverty.
Fulfilling the purpose you set out to achieve is likely a long and complicated journey.
On the plus side, understanding this journey for all its scope opens up the many, many aspects that may be tweaked and altered along the way.
When there’s such lengthy distance from A to B, the diversions you take between the two become less and less significant.
In getting clear on your purpose you start to visualise the various spaces within an expansive field from which you may score the winning goal.
Considering your options does not have to mean losing focus. Instead it can help you refine your tactics and conquer the defensive barriers standing in your way.
Wow. Just incase you couldn’t tell, that’s definitely my first sporting metaphor. I think it works, and I stand by it.
To make changes to your business without sacrificing its purpose requires you to see the bigger picture.
By all means, set your goalposts and define your rules. Without these, there is no game to play.
But remember, the things you’re playing for – the challenge, the entertainment and, ultimately, the prize depend on how you play the game.
Argueably the most crucial aspect of change management within your business is your communication.
Any business, no matter its size, model or values is not a static, independent entity.
Rather, it is its own system of interacting processes, actors, resources and relationships. Not only are businesses systems in themselves, they also fall within and between other systems.
These systems may be social, economic, ecological or some combination of the three. They may be other businesses, cultural contexts or our planet as a whole.
When making changes to your business, you need to be consistently aware of its situation. Systems are inherently dynamic, forming and reforming in constant state of flux.
On the one hand, you can take this as further reassurance that making changes to your business is not only natural, but necessary. Ecological theories of evolution and resiliency have taught us that survival depends on the capacity to adapt to the unpredictable.
However, what this also means is that you have to remain aware of a limitless number of factors. You have to be alert to the constant changes within your environment.
How can you do this?
Ultimately, through communication.
Throughout your business’s journey, you’ve most likely conducted market research, gained some sort of following or customer base and negotiated with various stakeholders. These activities are not tasks you can tick off your to-do list. They are crucial, ongoing practices, and all the more so when you’re trying to make changes to your business without sacrificing its purpose.
As you continue in these activities, their function doesn’t change, but the information they provide you with will.
When you make changes to your business, that ongoing market research will keep you on track with your customers’ desires. That customer base will express their queries and concerns, and the excitement or disappointment these might incur. Those negotiations will continue to help you understand and address the various needs and expectations of your stakeholders.
All of this information is incredibly valuable when making changes to your business.
It allows you to recognise risks, such as customers you could lose, boundaries you need to set with stakeholders, or compromises to your operations. It also enables you to identify opportunities, take on suggestions and explore your future plans.
Furthermore, communication satisfies your duty to remain transparent. It creates space for others to voice their opinions, explain their experience and share their ideas. It empowers each individual to make their own decisions.
So, be open and public about the changes you want to make and why you want to make them. Be responsive and balanced towards the feedback you receive. Respect and value the voices of others, and reflect on how they factor into any decisions you make going forwards.
Making changes to your business is not just about the distinct alterations you make within a single day, month or year. It is about ongoing flexibility in relation to the broader context you find yourself in.
The less intense and intimidating aspect of change management lies within this point. Whatever you choose to do going forwards, it doesn’t have to be forever. If you can make changes once, you can make more in the future. You can even revert to exactly what you were doing before!
Its all about experimentation, trial and error, and going with the flow. Communication serves as a useful tool, providing the knowledge, evidence and guidance you need to rationalise that initial gut feeling and place it within context.
Well, there we have it!
This is the perspective I’ve taken when approaching change management in my own venture, I do hope its proved insightful and useful to someone else out there who can relate to my recent anxieties!
As always, I’d love to hear any opinions or feedback. How do you approach change management in your own business? Is this something you’ve thought deeply about before? What cards will you be playing next?