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Why change is so difficult

By Sarah Penn
25 January 2018 — 4 minute read

It may be obvious that your business is in need of a shake-up, so why is it so hard as a small business owner to get change to happen and what can you do about it?

Bringing about change in a large organisation is a mammoth effort – all those hundreds or even thousands of people to get on board, train and communicate to, but what I’m sure many people reading this know, is that change in a small organisation is possibly even more difficult.

At the moment, this is an especially salient issue for SMSF-focused businesses. There’s the additional reporting that’s suddenly required, many firms are now at the size where they need a whole lot of process and procedure that wasn’t there before, and then of course there’s the ongoing issue of fee pressure on one side, and software, efficiency, increased costs to the business to consider on the other side. What is a small business owner to do?

And why, when it’s so obvious that things need to change, is it so damn hard to get that change to happen?

Well, I think there are a few reasons. Firstly, us entrepreneurial types tend to want to do everything ourselves, which means that there simply aren’t enough hours in the week to get everything done. And then there’s everyone’s favourite – self sabotage. This is when you tell everyone that you really want XYZ to happen, but when push comes to shove, you really aren’t supporting the change. Maybe you are always too busy to review the document you’ve been sent, or maybe you are really a bit scared that you might be successful. Whatever the reason, this is a real issue in small business. There’s no ‘big boss’ that is going to have stern words with you if it doesn’t happen, there’s just you, and your team.

So, how do you get past all of this?

Firstly, include your people. I have written about this before. Your team are your greatest asset, and are much more important than you when it comes to getting change to happen in your business (sorry, but it’s true). Unless your day job isn’t actually full-time, then you are simply not going to be able to implement the change. So, you will need to appoint someone as a project manager. This could be someone in your firm, or you might consider bringing someone in on a part-time basis to see the change through. After all, if the change is worth doing, then it’s probably worth spending some money on in order to get to the end result more quickly.

Secondly, and somewhat related, make sure you set aside enough time to really think about what it is that you want to achieve. Get your own thoughts in order so you can communicate effectively to your people. We’ve all had the experience of working for someone who constantly changes their mind about what’s most important. Don’t be that person. If you’re struggling to get the time to think through things properly, then you could consider sending yourself on a ‘retreat’, aka working from home for a couple of days, not answering any work emails or calls and really nutting out what you want for your business and yourself. It’s so much easier to be clear about the changes required once you’ve had time away from your business to think it through without interruption.

Related to this is the ‘big rock, little rock’ story. The short version is that filling up a jar with big rocks, little rocks and water is like filling up your time with big rocks, the most important initiatives in your business, little rocks, the smaller stuff, and water, the 3 million emails that seem to eventuate regardless of how hard you try to empty your inbox. People generally start with the water, and then try to stuff some little rocks into their jar and occasionally jam a big rock in. This of course is totally back to front.

You want to allocate time in your calendar for your big rocks first, and then your little rocks, and then let the water fill up whatever is left, with the full knowledge that there is a never-ending flow of water to fill up the space if you let it. This is really the only way to make sure that you move forward on the important changes in your business. Personally, I also like to have my three to five big rocks written on post-it notes and stuck to my computer screen or wall. The constant reminder of what will move my business forward is very helpful.

Related to this, I was listening to a podcast recently where a financial adviser was explaining that she sees clients on Mondays and Thursdays, works with her team on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and works on her business on Fridays. She explained that this didn’t always pan out exactly, but that it did help her to divide her time appropriately to deliver the best outcome to her business and herself. So I have started to do something similar. I take meetings and work with clients on Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday and work on my business on Mondays and Thursdays. It’s only been a few weeks, but the additional work I’ve been able to do has been quite an eye-opener!

In the end, it is of course our actions, not our intentions, that count. Why not take a few hours out to think about what you could do differently in order to make the changes that you need in your business? And if you can’t spare yourself for two hours, well then there’s your first problem to solve.

Good luck, change is painful but totally worth it. You just need to do some thinking upfront, have someone to help you push the change through, and focus your energy on the issues and actions that will make the biggest difference to your business.

Sarah Penn, director, Mayflower Consulting

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