Change is hard; I know from personal experience. For example, after I moved two years ago, it took my car almost a year to learn where our new residence was. When I did not pay attention, the car always took me back to the old one! I was recently reading through an article about the difficulty of change that I had originally read several years ago* that focused how to measure the potential success of a change project. An excellent article, but my quandary is how to apply such measures to small companies. Creating a change project in a very small company, let’s say fewer than 25 employees, can be as difficult as in a large company, but for very different reasons.
In the original article, the authors identified 3 key characteristics that lead to the success of change projects: first, being able to measure the project’s results either directly or indirectly, next, the quality of communications between the executive and the rest of the company, and finally the ability of the company to address the elements of change quickly.
The authors also identified 4 factors that would determine how well change could happen. First was the duration of change; short was not necessarily better than long, the importance of this factor was in the frequency of reviews of milestones. Second was the Integrity of the project team and their ability to complete the project. Next was the commitment to change from both management and employees, and finally was the effort that change would require over and above the employees’ usual work.
When considering the application of these factors to a small business, for example, a company with 15 employees, although the factors do apply, the way that they apply or even the essence of each factor may change.
If we look at the 3 characteristics mentioned above, it would seem that change would be much easier in a small company: measuring in a small company must be easy, there is not much to measure, communications should happen smoothly, there are not many layers of management to get through, and it should not be difficult to address change elements in such a small group.
Yet, change in small companies is as difficult as in a Fortune, but not always for the same reason. Measuring results in a small company can be difficult, as small companies often do not have the resources, or inclination, to do a lot of measuring. Even something as simple as collecting hours worked can be difficult is one is using only rudimentary tools, such as spreadsheets and timecards. The communications lines are direct, but often the core competencies of those involved tend towards the content of the business, and not the skill sets involved in business management. And, as witnessed above by my own inability to change my daily route, change is hard for individuals.
When considering the 4 factors, quite often there is significant support for change in small companies; management and employees agree that there is a need for change and wholeheartedly support change. However, most small companies do not have employees that are experienced and skilled at change projects. In addition, employees in small companies can be very busy, so that the challenge of finding time to do the additional work is difficult. As a result, even small companies where the spirit is willing; employees and management agree that change is necessary, it can still be very difficult to create change.
Having identified the problem of change in small companies, next week I will propose a framework for creating change in small companies.
* The Hard Side of Change Management; Sirkin, Keenan and Jackson. Harvard Business Review, October 2007