Lane Changes and Managing Change

Making a change in any organization is like making a lane change in traffic.  If you want to make a lane change, you must signal, look ahead, look behind you, and make sure it is safe before you proceed to the new lane. Then once you move into your new lane you need to thank those who let you make a move. When traffic is heavy, it is much more challenging and dangerous to make a lane change.  Moves to new lanes must be strategized and timed.  Often, lane changes under these circumstances do not happen without the permission of another driver who makes a conscious decision to acknowledge your attempt and let you in. Jumping into a lane without these courtesies can often result in angry response from other drivers.

It’s no different when planning in organizations – you have to look ahead and behind before you make a change or transition. This is especially true when you are making major changes in business strategy or direction, marketing (for example a name or logo change) or business model. You can probably think of examples of these kinds of changes that did not go well – i.e., New Coke/Old Coke or JC Penney’s no more coupons strategy. Added caution must be taken when changes need to be made in fragile organizations or organizations that have been under intense pressure.

Small businesses do not have the resources to make quick shifts to recover from poorly executed changes or transitions.  Want to make a major change or transition? Consider these simple approaches:

Survey your workforce or customers about the proposed change or transition.  You need permission from those who have worked in your business or benefited from a particular product or service you offer before you want to try to make changes.  If you are introducing a new product or service, test it out before launching it so that modifications are possible. If you are making an internal change that can impact staffing, engage staff so they can be part of the decision making, to offer feedback or assist with implementation strategies or ideas.

No surprises. Inform people ahead of time what you plan to do in order for people to adjust to the change that is about to happen.  Keep in mind that some cultures are more resistant to change while for others, constant change is an expectation.  Internal strategies pertaining to staffing are different than external customer strategies. In either case your approach should be based upon the kinds of questions your staff or customers are likely to ask.  Anticipate what they might be and plan accordingly.

Ask for feedback. Once you have made the change you need to thank your staff or your customers who have accepted the change.  This can ensure that you are on the right track and have made the right decision.  Check in with your staff to see what the think about the change.  Find ways to measure the impacts.  Assess how the change has impacted customer sales or behaviors.   Surveying customers can also be an option.

Making a Lane change? Look ahead, look behind, ask permission and ask for feedback.

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