Change is inevitable and companies that handle it well tend to outperform those that don’t. Yet it’s all too common for small and medium businesses (SMBs) to jump into change initiatives without a plan or a structure. Before kicking off a large-scale change initiative, stopping to ask some questions can vastly improve your odds of success.

1. Is the change truly necessary?

‘Adapt or die’ is the refrain of the digital age. But as Harvard Business Review authors Andrea Coville and Paul B. Brown note, your business doesn’t always necessarily need to change to remain relevant. They recommend asking whether your customers really want you to change. If not, an unwanted change to your processes, products or services could alienate your customer base. Think about how no one wanted a new Coca-Cola recipe back in the day.

2. What do you need to change?

If the answer to the first question is ‘yes’, then the question that naturally follows is what you should change and why. Perhaps you need to explore new channels to market—such as online commerce or resellers—because selling direct via your stores is becoming too expensive. Or perhaps your product is no longer a good fit for the customer base you are serving. The answers to these questions can help you to clearly define the changes you need to make and scope your change initiative.

3. What is the benefit of the change?

As Ron Kaufman notes, you need to understand what a successful change will look like at the outset of a project. This includes understanding the business value of the change, the financial impact you’re shooting for and the strategic advantage you hope to achieve. Business and team leaders should have a clear view about how the company will be different after the change. For example, moving to ecommerce from bricks-and-mortar could be about driving down overheads and reaching new customers.

4. What are the costs and risks of the change? 

Coville and Brown say that it’s important to weigh up the risks and rewards of each change. Change programmes inevitably disrupt day to day operations. They make your business vulnerable to a range of dangers, such as lower staff morale, the risk of workforce attrition and a loss of focus on your customers.

Sweeping changes to your business—for example, revamping your organisational structure or automating business processes—are high-cost, high-risk gambits. As such, you want to be sure the benefits of getting them right are also exceptional. You also want to put plans in place to mitigate the risks and the costs of changes you plan to implement.

5. How will you bring your people with you? 

To land a change initiative, you’ll need the support of your people. Remember that it is important to communicate the goal or idea. Without showing the team what the journey looks like, the reason for doing (for example current failing infrastructure or the need for more efficient customer acquisition) you will always struggle to close the “buy-in” phase.

Before starting, seek their feedback and buy-in. Have answers ready to their questions about how it will change their jobs. As an SMB, you might not have in-house change management experts. Your frontline team leaders may thus need to inspire their teams and support them through the change. Consider training some of them in change management disciplines ahead of the rollout or engage external consultants to help.

References:

https://hbr.org/2014/04/your-business-doesnt-always-need-to-change

https://www.ronkaufman.com/blog/13-questions-to-consider-before-culture-change-program/