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The 5 Steps of Change in Business
John Quinlan John Quinlan
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Detroit , MI
Wednesday, March 08, 2017


In today’s fast-paced world, businesses, like anything else, must be able to adapt quickly in order to keep up. But change isn’t easy. When I am brought into a business as a change agent, it’s usually after they’ve become fixed in a “safe” or “comfortable” state of what has always worked in the past, and that’s where change really becomes difficult. There’s real pain, discomfort and anxiety for most people to be open to disruption—and it pays to acknowledge that before you move forward.

It is possible to become more effective in managing change. These five steps will help you do that.

  1. Acknowledge Urgency: You must first realize there’s a need for change. Perhaps your company is expanding at a rapid pace, or losing money, or there is dissonance within the C-suite. Start with the question “why” and see where it leads. Why do we feel out of control or why is our revenue and/or profits decreasing? Why is our team communication failing? And where do we need change? Everybody needs to have a clear idea of where they’re at, and where they are heading. It is an adult need. Dialogue, supported by the norm of openness and the willingness of the leader to be emotionally vulnerable, is vital in all of the steps.
  2. Start Deep: Change starts with people personally, before the broader scope of the business. The commitment has to come from within them. Like the tenets in most 12-step programs, you can’t make someone else change—they have to want to. In order for me to do work in organizations, the people at the top have to be committed to personal development. They need to understand what change is, and the difference between informational change (head knowledge/accessing information) and transformational change (unlearning and relearning). There’s a big difference today in those two, which I will discuss in a future article.
  3. Tone Down Fear: When faced with change, most people balk. They realize, “My reality may be disconfirmed.” They must deal with that, and will either embrace it or fight it. When working with people who are resistant, there’s a sequence I found that really grounds them. It’s like building a good house. You start with the foundation. Individuals must first go into a deep dive on personal values and personal vision. What do they believe? What do they want? As they discover this, new options will open up to them, often with an emotional commitment (authentic motivation) to move forward.
  4. Value(s) and Vision(s) Up: Only after they’ve determined their own core values and personal vision can they formulate a strategic vision for the company. Based on what they discover about themselves and their own wants, they then frame an organization-wide core value statement and an all-encompassing strategic vision. I was recently brought into a construction company as a change agent. The owners wanted to develop a growth strategy to double in size in five years. First, I asked them to give me an understanding of what they wanted to change personally in their roles (from what to what) to become more effective and to increase their job satisfaction. A job fit or match is essential. Next, for their organization-wide company (from what to what). The initial response was deafening! To be that simple and direct was disarming. They commented, “We never had anyone ask us to be so precise.”
  5. Match a Plan: By answering the questions above, you can then comprehend where you and your organization prefer to be. It is now time to fit or match a relevant plan. Perhaps you need increased scalability to accommodate increased revenue, or to upgrade your technology, or reorganize the management structure. When such opportunities present themselves, it may open up the door to a managed change effort. Therefore, an organizational assessment, including a SWOT analysis, and an environmental scan, including a PEST analysis, to gain an accurate current picture (brutal facts), are fundamental for a business plan.

Change is usually difficult, but is critical if your company is going to survive and thrive. It is of upmost significance to remember to integrate the soft side (intuitive) and organic (emergent) elements of the company into the planning process. There is enough research to convince all of us that there is a strong correlation between culture and financial performance. If all of the above is addressed with conscientiousness, consistency and conviction, change is not only possible, but can be an ongoing learning process, differentiating your company.

This growth mindset, the willingness to take risk, adapt and learn from mistakes, is foundational to sustainable profits. Whether I am in a remote village in Papua New Guinea or a modern executive suite, it is a choice point to change. On a pithy note, W. Edwards Deming said, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” When was the last time you asked yourself the question, “from what to what?” Such brevity and preciseness in your responses may lead to a powerful antidote in times of confusion, where so many corporate members are in need of long-term direction.

Note: The terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” are from the research and publishing of Carol S. Dweck, PhD

John Quinlan’s recently published book Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir of a Vulnerable Man is available on Amazon as both e-book and print. See the video introduction to the e-book here.

Plymouth, MI