How to feel comfortable with change and turn it into the foundation of your business

How to feel comfortable with change and turn it into the foundation of your business

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Life in business is an endless series of ups and downs. The moment we learn to ride one wave, conditions change and we have to paddle furiously to catch the next one.

Change is a constant, not a single passing event. As leaders, we must prepare accordingly. No matter how high the waves are or how many times we fall off the board, we can’t afford to take our eyes off the wave we’re on or the ones looming on the horizon. Great change leaders know how to live in the present and the future, know when it is appropriate or not to implement change, and finally, know how to embed resilience to change in their organizations.

Related: How to become the leader who forces the change every business needs to scale

Stay laser focused on the present, but live in the future

To be effective, leaders must learn to distribute their attention between the present and the future. They must be able to pour everything they have into the job at hand without losing sight of future goals and potential roadblocks. Every new CEO I’ve coached describes this duality as one of the most unnatural but vital muscles to develop.

Success requires aiming for the best-case scenario but preparing for the worst. This capability is critical during times of crisis, distress or macroeconomic headwinds. When you’re prepared for whatever may happen tomorrow, you can focus intently on the work that needs to happen today.

How to know it’s time for a change

It can be difficult to identify when a change needs to be made or what that change should be. Balancing the evolutionary mandate for change with the human need for stability is paradoxical. If you change too much too fast, your customer may lose track of your core identity. If you change too carefully and too slowly, your customer may consider you irrelevant. Sometimes leaders can become so used to change that they make thoughtful changes without properly assessing the situation.

A leader I recently worked with wanted to blow up a well-constructed organizational blueprint just a year and a half after implementing it. If the leader hadn’t stopped to evaluate, she might not have realized that the main cause of her frustration with him was the competitive behaviors between divisions rather than the structure itself. As such, the most important thing a leader can do is take a metaphorical breath and make an appropriate assessment.

While there is no playbook outlining all the reasons to change, there are some common indicators that, if present, should alert leaders. Here are three important ones:

1. Growth has stagnated

This is one area where leaders need to be vigilant and proactive: if you allow your growth to slow down without intervention, you risk falling behind, sometimes you will never be able to catch up. That said, a company’s growth may stagnate for various reasons and leaders should not be jumping to conclusions and rushing to overhaul the entire company due to a slow month. Know that your “spider-sense” or CEO’s intuition is not enough. Check in with employees, vet customers, and use the data to diagnose your market. Whatever emerges from your analysis, if it’s meaningful and within your control to change, you need to jump on it.

2. You see negative attitudes and behaviors

There is no perfect or bad behavior. Negative attitudes will always appear, but when those behaviors and attitudes take on a more regular presence, it’s clear that something is wrong. It could be as simple as one toxic employee or a group of employees undermining the business. What if attitudes and behaviors become pervasively negative? There is rarely a quick fix, but the mandate for change is quite urgent because you have a cultural problem. Just as culture takes time to build or unfold, your intervention must be realistically gradual over time and highly intentional.

3. When disruptive threats emerge

Competition can be healthy, pushing everyone to grow and expand their offerings. However, if you’ve diagnosed a threat that goes beyond simple competition, now is the time to think hard and act boldly. Consider adapting Facebook to Meta. After dealing with brand-damaging internal leaks, intense public scrutiny, and a major blow to their advertising business due to changes in Apple’s privacy practices, they rebranded the Meta name and pivoted their strategy long term on the Metaverse.

Related: 5 Key Ingredients to Becoming a Successful Change Leader (and Home Baker)

Build change into the system

People crave stability in the workplace, so how can leaders create a culture that prepares employees to adapt and change as needed?

The willingness to adapt starts with a solid foundation. Communicate your company’s mission, priorities and vision for the future to all employees. When your company’s purpose is clear, employees feel comfortable knowing that the foundation from which any change comes and can trust that it’s not arbitrary. Plus, they can quickly identify when something is off priorities and needs to be fixed.

From this foundation, create space for reflection, dialogue and learning. Bring in fresh perspectives and encourage (and fund, if possible) employee learning. Meet frequently to discuss your priorities, goals and visions for the future, ensuring everyone is aligned and adjusted as new information arrives. At my company, we evaluate our business quarterly through board meetings and team-wide retrospectives. My executive team also meets annually for an offsite team to determine our strategy and ensure we are all aligned on priorities for the coming year.

Related: How to be an adaptable leader and use change to your advantage

Strengthen your muscles for change

Don’t let a day go by without asking if there’s anything you need to change. What is your main goal and what should you prioritize? Are there any future hurdles you’re not seeing yet? Learning to balance these conflicting needs all at once is a challenge: straddling the present and the future requires immense cognitive and emotional energy. However, when you’ve surfed through those waves and glided gently to shore, I don’t think you’ll regret those aching muscles. You may turn around, ready and eager to get right back out there.

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