How Do I Lead My Small Business Through Constant Change?

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When you’re running a small business, the balancing act of responsibilities and demands on your time and effort can feel overwhelming. Anyone who’s started or been involved with a small business knows precisely what it’s like to be in that place.

There’s no template for navigating through the experience. There are incredible resources, influential advice, support systems and more. Working through turbulent times is a bit different for everyone, a specific path as unique as the individual and the business or organization they’ve devoted themselves to.

At the end of the day, though, one truth remains. The singularly most important resource for any small business isn’t time or operating capital — it’s people. The people who get the company where it’s going, whether it’s a small team getting a project proposal to a client on time, someone handling IT issues when a system freezes or the individual who helps get supplies where they need to be. People are what matter; without them, there is no business, no supply or demand.

Related: When Leading Through Change, Adopt These 4 Strategies

Understanding the pressures on today’s workforce

In the uncertain and chaotic world we live in right now, knowing how to navigate an unpredictable workplace keeps businesses and employees alike on their toes. Depending on the source, the job market has never seen a power shift to the employee as extreme as it has been. Or conversely, a vast portion of those who sought a better work-life balance and changed jobs or careers during the Great Resignation are now regretting their choices, finding that the proverbial grass isn’t always greener.

There is a struggle to stay current on the consensus skillset that employers want to see in their workforce. The stressors of the perpetual advancement of systems and processes can feel relentless, with new — and not always improved — hardware and software around every corner.

Taking the time to slow down and hone in on their workforce and the forces that impact them on a daily basis is one of the greatest steps small business leaders can take. These individuals and teams work to bring the potential of an idea or concept and turn it into something real. They are the ones impacted by change that is often easiest to make from the upper levels.

Related: What’s the Future of Work? A Hybrid Workforce

All change in the workplace carries a significant impact

The changes made by upper management are often made with the best intentions to better the workplace and improve the possibilities of the future for the company. Those making the choices might see a change as a straightforward choice, made with the benefit of deep research and data to comb through.

Individuals impacted by the change daily — if not hourly — may view experience very differently. From a shift in communications software to implementing a different payroll schedule, from working a hybrid set-up to adopting a 4-day workweek, changes, big or small, impact individual lives in a real, significant way.

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Helping employees process and navigate change is a crucial skill for any small business, from 10 employees to 100 — all workplaces employ people and every individual matters.

Related: 10 Tips for Building a Happy Workforce

Smooth change requires knowing key practices for all stages of the process

The process of change in the workplace can be complex; this is no different than any other area of life, from helping a child handle outgrowing their toys to adjusting to water restrictions in California.

Change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be dramatic — or traumatic. Everyone benefits when leadership is fully committed to ensuring a positive experience for employees. For small businesses, it is easier to consider the situation employees are in. Management can benefit from following several key practices.

  1. Encourage open communication. Whether within teams, between teams or flowing reciprocally from management to staff, communication during periods of change is critical. Consider having brainstorming sessions amongst teams while implementing a process for management to receive and explore the feedback
  2. Aim for clarity when explaining the intentions behind the change. Experiencing change without a choice — and without a clear understanding of why it’s happening in the first place — is a deeply unsettling situation for employees. A lack of clear communication of the problem/solution process resulting in the change will only breed resentment and impede a smooth implementation.
  3. Give your employees a voice in the process. Very little erodes trust between employee and employer more thoroughly than a lack of respect. Ignoring the input of those experiencing the change in the trenches will only impede the process and damage relationships and morale.
  4. Craft a timeline with a defined goal. Without a clear understanding of the implementation process and the timeline, employees can feel like their work is perpetually mired in the fog of change.
  5. Clearly and confidently define and communicate changes in expectations and employee performance evaluation. Office morale can severely suffer when employees lack a clear understanding of the expectations for a position or role. When change occurs, the reasonable expectation is that job performance metrics may change. If this isn’t addressed during the process, the confusion can fuel resentment and high-stress levels.

Related: 4 Ways Leaders Can Navigate Change and Find the Hidden Opportunities

Communication is the glue that binds a workforce together

Little in life is predictable, which some could argue is the point. That unpredictability is amplified in the work environment — where livelihoods are directly impacted. Employees need more than lip service from their leadership; they’re searching for employers who know how to support their workforces properly.

Change is a process, and true leaders are there at every stage of any change. Not only is that commitment crucial for ensuring effective implementation of the change, but it is a direct investment in employee wellbeing and company morale.

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Gravy Smith
Gravy Smith
Gravy Smith is a mechatronic engineer who pivoted her career towards content writing, online marketing, and entrepreneurship.