There’s never a ‘perfect’ or ‘peaceful’ time to launch or run a business – there are always challenges to overcome and changing landscapes which require adaptability. Every skilled and effective manager, from small team leaders through to MDs, needs to possess the skills and knowledge to help manage their team through difficult periods.
From ensuring that every member of the team knows their responsibilities to providing the emotional support to help everyone through a difficult time; managers have to consider many factors when navigating choppy waters.
To help you nurture a working environment where change can be accommodated, and develop your management skills to help the whole team through change – we have put together this guide. We’ll cover ways to implement processes which support flexible business practises, ways to recognise change on the horizon, and then we’ll chat to a management consultant about the techniques he’d recommend during difficult business periods.
A business which is flexible is much more likely to handle change efficiently and effectively than one which is rigid, stuck in its ways and unwilling to evolve. If your business is currently quite inflexible, then it makes sense to remove some of the rigidness where possible and implement new flexible processes. Some of these processes may be adoptable during periods of change and uncertainty, and could make it easier to adapt.
If it’s possible for your business, it may be prudent to start implementing flexible working for your team – giving them some freedom over working from home and the hours they work. A soft introduction to working from home could mean they are better prepared for extended periods of operating out-of-office should it be required.
Many people were sent home to work at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, and those who were familiar with the process adapted to their new situation more seamlessly. From following a new pattern of work to having all the equipment and correct setup in place, an experienced home-worker was ready to thrive.
Additionally, the implementation of flexible working hours ensures that members of the team can adapt to changing personal, business, political and global landscapes.
For businesses which have never offered flexible working, but have been forced into it by circumstances out of their hands – it could provide a lesson and chance for growth. But, we’ll cover this in greater detail later.
Quite often, employees can be a little protective over their skills and responsibilities – confident that possessing a unique ability makes them more valuable to an organisation. However, limiting the number of people who can perform key functions can inhibit flexibility. If a specialist is not available to perform their key skill, the business will be functioning below capacity.
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This makes it vitally important to share skills and delegate responsibilities wherever possible. Upskilling junior members of the team increases their value and makes it easier to find people to jump on last-minute tasks.
This step has the added bonus of making members of the team feel more valued and important within the business.
When situations change, it can be difficult to stay on top of those day-to-day jobs that your team perform as a routine. Wherever possible, identify if these can be automated through the help of virtual assistants, scheduling tools and calendar reminders. This can remove the risk of things being missed and overlooked when a bigger challenge rears its head.
Sometimes, businesses can get so bogged down in short-term projects and fancy new techniques that they overlook the long-term strategy of the business or department. Make sure that this strategy is always at the forefront of your team’s minds, so every decision they make serves this purpose.
Not only does this improve the chances they’ll make beneficial business decisions at every juncture, it means they’ll be able to adapt if the situation means their current processes are no longer viable or productive.
There are perhaps four different groups of factors which can precede change within a business: global, economic, industry and internal.
Global issues are perhaps the easiest to identify, but the hardest to handle. Volatility in health, politics and regulations at a global level can all affect businesses of all sizes, so it is important to resist the thought that your business’ size insulates you from global issues. Staying abreast of huge global events can help you prepare for the possible eventuality that your business will be affected.
However, due to the very nature of global issues, they will likely affect your customers, partners, suppliers, investors and more – projecting more uncertainty upon your business. So, to protect your business as much as possible, evaluate your cash flow and cut off any extraneous costs and suppliers before the real impact hits.
Economic issues can arise from a number of different reasons: production in essential materials, political unrest in key exporting locations, and many more. Staying on top of economic and financial news is vital for any small business owner, anticipating issues which could affect costs of goods and materials, and also freedom of trade. Spotting these issues early enough can help you identify potential alternative suppliers and partners where necessary.
Again, a small business owner should be keeping on top of industry news to be prepared for any potential upsets or changes. Pre-empting potential change can give you the upper hand on the competition, putting you in a position to strike first and accommodate the changes more effectively.
Bizarrely, the hardest issues to anticipate can often be internal as they’re unlikely to generate any public interest, and there may only be a couple of parties involved. This makes it incredibly important for any manager to maintain strong lines of communication with their line managers, directors and the teams below them. Staying in touch with as many parties within the business as possible could alert you to issues as they are arising or before they become issues.
Daniel Masters, of management and training consultancy Mastery, shares his four techniques to help team seniors guide their business through periods of uncertainty.
Make yourself transparent with your team at all stages of the process. Whether it’s easing tensions and the worries of certain team members, informing them of the reasons for the change, or listening to their concerns, ensure all communication channels are open – before, during and after the change.
A lot of people will be wondering why these changes are taking place. It’s up to you to ensure a steady workflow by providing them with quality communication as the process moves onwards.
Daniel’s four Ps go a long way to allaying a team’s concerns and reassuring all individuals; persuade them that change is not something to be feared.
Shock, denial, anger, bargaining and experimentation are all part of the process of change, whether we want to admit it or not. By their definition, they imply that change is something to be feared rather than embraced.
When your team hits a bump in the road, people might not be so ready. By providing the support they need along the way, you help others to realise that the change curve, though seemingly steep at first, is one to be eased into when the process starts. Many of the team will look to you as a guide, so support them when they need it.
The natural response to change can be negative, but sometimes people thrive. Those who respond well to change are integral to team spirit. Use the positivity of others as a tool in times of change, and help others who previously struggled to adapt to get on board.
An important morale boost, celebrate any milestones along the way and the process as a whole with acknowledgements and recognitions of success. Small wins go a long way to achieving big goals – highlighting even the most minor achievement. Whether it’s with small perks, praise at your next team meeting or dinner and drinks after work, celebrating success makes engaging your team and getting them on board when the next process of change occurs easier.
A good business leader uses every situation and event as an opportunity to develop new ideas and grow. As a period of change or uncertainty ends and working life returns to normal, it is worthwhile for a manager to review the events with their team. Discuss the implications of the turbulent time for every member of the team, and how these were handled.
These conversations can shed light on how different parts of the business were affected in different ways. For example, senior management may have been well protected against the impact of the change, but the juniors and front-of-house team members may have suffered the most. This could help the business implement process changes which provide equal protection for all employees.
Additionally, the new processes undertaken during this period should be evaluated to identify whether they provide long-term benefit, too. For example, if you allowed your team to work at home one day a week and it really benefitted some people’s home/life balance, could you continue this practice?
This could help the wider business return to normal operation with improved processes and a revitalised team – turn an obstacle into an opportunity for growth.
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