Can An Entrepreneurial Leopard Change Its Spots?

6th June 2016

Can An Entrepreneurial Leopard Change Its Spots?  | Clean Space Blog

In the last blog post I spoke a bit about how change is necessary to take any business forward, including change for me personally.

It’s clear that for any organisation to change, its leader has to too.  Figuring out what needed to change and how to manage it has been one of the most interesting challenges in my entrepreneurial career so far.  And I also believe it’s something a lot of other entrepreneurs struggle with.

In this two-part blog post I’ll share what I had to change and how I did it.  In part 1 below I’ll start with the framework I discovered to manage change.  And in part 2 next month, I’ll outline the details of my own personal change.

How hard is change anyway?

My fellow business blogger, Malcolm Durham pointed out that my last blog wasn’t just about managing change but touched upon my personal change too. I thought more about it, and realised that I’ve had to change a great deal and that this has taken a lot of thought and conscious effort, because change is hard.

Studies show that only about 25% of change management schemes succeed in the long term.

And if managing change is hard, managing personal change is even harder.

As a result, most entrepreneurs start a business, get to a certain size, then sell and start the process all over again.  Selling and going back to what they know is much easier than changing themselves to succeed during the second stage.

However, I wanted to take myself and the business to the next level.

The first thing I had to figure out was how to make change happen.

A framework for managing change

A couple of years ago, in a training session, my new management team and I discovered Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Change Curve.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve

Inspired by her work with terminally ill people, The Change Curve was originally used to highlight various stages endured during the grieving and bereavement process. It is now widely used in a business setting for organisational change management.

The basic concept is that during a change an individual moves along different stages of the curve.  Along that journey they feel different emotions and need different support to help them through.

Helping an individual through the change curve

In that management training session we explored the various stages of the change curve to identify the different approaches required at each stage.

What I learnt is that after the initial shock, an individual quickly moves into ‘Denial’ where what they need is clarity and reiteration.  They need to know the full details about the change – the what, why, when, who and where – and the support that will be available to them throughout the process.  When they slip into denial they need a firm reminder that the change is happening.

The individual’s second and third stages, ‘Frustration’ and ’Depression’, require a different approach.  Here the individual needs to vent and get everything off their chest.  They need to voice their frustrations, anger and worries. The key here is to find ways of opening people up, to listen and hear their concerns but to continue to reiterate that the change is happening.  Empathy and emotional support is the order of the day.

(By the way, recognising and accepting that resistance to change is natural and part of the process was a real turning point for me.  I was used to barking orders and people getting on with it.  Suddenly, with a bigger organisation those orders became instructions to change and every time I was met with resistance which I took as dissent.  This was hugely frustrating until I learnt what was really going on),

‘Experimentation’ is the individual’s next stage, and involves them beginning to implement the change and try a few things out. During this time, they need support and encouragement with plenty of positive feedback. They also need an environment where mistakes are seen as a necessary evil.  Mismanagement of this stage can easily lead to a relapse to one of the previous stages.

After a period of testing the individual moves into a ‘Decision’ to accept the change and finally ‘Integration’ when the change has fully taken place and they are used to the new working conditions.

It’s easy to think the work is done at this point but it is vital to celebrate success. This ensures the individual recognises that the change was positive and necessary and reduces the fear of change for the future.

Key actions at each stage of the change curve

Putting it all into practice

Having learnt the theory, my management team and I took an upcoming change and took the time to think through how we could manage the transition using the Kübler -Ross framework.

We took the time to write a short summary of what was changing, why we were doing it, when it would take effect, who would be affected and what support they’d have during the change.  We thought about the worries they may have, their (potentially irrational) emotional responses, and what benefits they would enjoy once the change was complete.

After communicating the change and issuing people a copy of the written summary we crafted situations where people could vent.  We took people for coffees, took them to the pub, had daily one-to-one meetings in the office and asked probing questions to get them talking.

Once we sensed people were starting to experiment we shifted to crafting situations where people could test out the new world.  We created mini-projects for people to work together with a manager to support them when they had questions or made mistakes.  We gave them a friendly little shove when they needed it.

Finally, the team reached the other side and the change that we had planned was fully complete.  At this point we sat everyone down and asked them to identify the benefits they were enjoying and what they were still worried about.  Everyone, without fail, was satisfied that the change was the right thing to do and felt their worries were behind them.

Taking the time

In our management training session it took us no more than fifteen minutes to work through the entire curve and identify the actions we could take to properly manage each stage.  Putting that plan into practice meant the change was a real success.

Conversely, there are times when we haven’t taken the time to plan out the change properly and we’ve paid the price later on in time and effort.  As the old saying goes: proper planning prevents poor performance.

Managing myself through change

Managing other people through change is one thing.  Managing myself was another challenge entirely.

In next month’s post I’ll share the key things I recognised that I needed to change in my own skills and habits.

In the meantime, why not take some time to plan out your next impending change?  You never know what you may discover.

Call us on 0870 423 3559