Changing working methods in a family business

Changing working methods in a family business

So you’re a family business, and you’re wrestling with all the palaver that Covid-19 has created.

New regulations. New – and ever-changing – restrictions. New ways of working to keep your staff (and your customers) safe. And, of course, to keep in line with the law.

It’s a lot to deal with.

Some of the changes you need to make seem pretty obvious. Others don’t. And some may seem obvious to you, but not to your staff. After all – let’s face it – no one likes change. Especially when they can’t see the point of it.

And you’re running a family business. With staff who are used to a working environment that’s more relaxed, more focused on people, and less hierarchical. Which means they may not be too keen to embrace new and unfamiliar ways of working.

You think – or even know – they’re essential. Your team may well regard them as ‘bureaucracy gone mad’, and respond accordingly. They may even think they’re helping. After all, they won’t want to see your business drowning in paperwork. Or losing its attraction – to them – by becoming rigid and inflexible.

But you, of course, need those changes to happen. Right now.

So what’s the answer?

Start with a good, positive thought. You’re running a successful family business – and that’s thanks, in large part, to your team. You know they’re invested in what you’re doing, and dedicated to supporting you. So their resistance to change – ironically – is the result of their commitment to you and to the business.

And that’s what you need to build on…

Use that commitment. Work with it. You know your people – so you will know how best to get the same level of commitment to the changes you urgently need to make.

In practice that requires two things: patience, and time. You’ll need to talk to them. To explain what you are doing, and why. To discuss, with them, how those changes can best be implemented. Especially if your first ideas are causing problems.

In other words, wherever and whenever possible you need to involve and engage them. Because that will reinforce the trust and respect they already have for you and for the business.

Yes, it takes longer. And no, it wouldn’t be the right way to tackle an urgent emergency. But it’s the best way to build commitment to new working practices, and to ensure your staff do what’s necessary.

Even when you’re not looking…

You can see earlier posts about change management here on the website, of course. But if you’d like to talk it through, give me a call on 01359 240717 or drop me an email!  The first hour is free, so there’s no catch.

Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process? Check that it’s working!

Changing a process is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when you need to do it quickly. And in the pandemic conditions at the time of writing the truth is that most of us – including the government – are having to ‘make it up as we go along’.

Which means – inevitably – that things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

A good friend has been organising his volunteer group to support the community, and in particular their village shop. They’re helping out with taking orders and delivering supplies to people in lockdown. And they’re also collecting orders from suppliers – including an excellent local bakery.

A job my friend took upon himself, but had never done before.

New volunteers, new job, new mistakes…

On the first day he arrived at the bakery and was told there were four trays to collect. A staff member – somewhat engaged with a customer – pointed to a stack of four trays on the floor. Which he duly picked up and took back. On arrival it turned out that two of them were part of someone else’s order…

Well, at least it gave his otherwise idle car a good run (by the time he’d delivered the two trays to their intended destination, collected the two for his own village, and brought them back to the shop…)

He duly issued a warning to other volunteers to check each order very carefully before leaving the bakery.

A warning that sadly did not reach a new volunteer, who was collecting bread for the first time a week later. And walked away with only two of the four trays he should have had.

When my friend went back for his next collection he politely suggested they could label the trays to avoid confusion. Sadly the bakery staff were more concerned with avoiding blame. Even though he’d already said he wasn’t interested in blaming anybody. He simply wanted to prevent any more mistakes…

The lesson?

This is a classic case of faulty plumbing. The bakery were simply ‘doing what they’d always done’ without taking into account that volunteers had no idea what that was, or how it worked. Their staff were frightened, busy and preoccupied, so they felt stressed and vulnerable. When – inevitably – something went wrong, they assumed someone must be to blame. No one really was. The problem, quite simply, was in the system. It wasn’t designed for volunteers.

So if you’re changing a process in the middle of a crisis, don’t feel bad if things don’t work first time. Mistakes are bound to happen. The trick is to learn from them – and to stop them happening again.

In the meantime – in those especially challenging moments – be kind to yourself, your team, and everyone else. Stay safe, and stay well!

And there’s no charge if you need some help…

These are challenging times – so I am happy to help you review what you do, how you do it, and how you might deal with any glitches. I can do it virtually, via phone calls and online conference software, and I am happy to do it FREE OF CHARGE to help any business in the current situation. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)

Do you still love your business?

Do you still love your business?

Love your business? If it’s your own venture – yes, you probably do. Or at least, you probably did. But if the love is fading, what can you do to bring it back?

Let’s face it, most of us start a new venture with bucketloads of enthusiasm, undiluted by experience. Until, of course, experience kicks in. And that once-golden vision begins to look a little – well, tarnished.

It happens. We’re only human. But it doesn’t have to. Because all too often people fall out of love with their business for avoidable reasons. Perhaps, for example, because it isn’t working nearly as well as it could. Enthusiasm, after all, will only take you so far if you’re working six times harder than you need (or want) to.

So what’s the answer?

Well, you could look for inspiration to Ole Kirk Christiansen, the man who invented Lego. Without (to start with) knowing the first thing about plastic.

Because he was a carpenter…

Ole Kirk Christiansen’s story

What Ole did have was a burning desire to create quality toys that would help children to ‘play well’. Or since he was a Dane, ‘at lege godt’. Which was the origin of the name ‘Lego’. And because he was a carpenter, his first toys were made of wood. Like most business startups, he began with what he knew, what he loved, and what he was good at. Wooden ducks. Wooden bears. Wooden bricks. With his own young son as an enthusiastic beta tester.

In a country still recovering from war – and from the bitterness and humiliation of the German occupation – people were in the mood to rebuild. Ole found that children, too, liked to build things – and, like many Danes, he was a man who looked to the future and found it exciting. And one of things he found most exciting was the wealth of possibilities in new materials like plastic.

So he experimented with plastic bricks. Simple ones to start with, that didn’t lock together. Until his son complained about them. So the LEGO brick was born. And patented.

Ole’s grandson still runs the business. It’s a little larger now, but Ole never fell out of love with it – and nor has his family.

Play well, work well, live well

So what can we learn from Ole’s story?

First, that passion counts for a great deal – and that he most certainly had.

Second, that doing something you love can still involve change and development. It doesn’t mean doing exactly the same thing you started with, because a successful business will evolve and grow to meet changing demand and changing conditions. You may need to shift its direction, think again, and try something new. The first Legoland, in Denmark, was a complete gamble. Ole’s son, Godfred, expected 125,000 visitors – and got 1.5 million…

Thirdly, that you may need to adapt and change your processes. Because what worked well for a carpenter turning out individual toys was hardly going to work for a factory turning out millions of plastic building bricks. Because Ole was prepared to make those changes, he never fell out of love with his business. And his love was amply repaid.

And fourthly, that even the most successful business may face unexpected challenges. The rise of computer games led to a prolonged crisis for LEGO – which they resolved by an impressive new strategy that embraced and exploited the new possibilities of online play.

So if you no longer love your business, give me a call. I’d be delighted to help you rekindle that romance. Why not book a free initial consultation?

Ready for change…?

Ready for change…?

Is someone who struggles with change ‘resistant’ to it? Or are they simply not ready for change?

The difference is important, because ‘readiness for change’ is something you can gauge even before a change takes place.

By knowing how ready for change they are – and working to increase their readiness – you may never need to deal with ‘resistance’ at all.

Using the word ‘readiness’ also removes the rather judgemental associations of the word ‘resistance’. That will affect the attitudes and approach of the people who need to make change happen.

So – how can you determine someone’s readiness? (And let’s give the ‘someone’ a name – Hubert – to avoid complicated language. Apologies to anyone called Hubert, of course…)

There are two issues you need to think about:

  • The drivers: How bad does Hubert believe that things now? How much – in Hubert’s view – will change improve them?
  • The restraint: How secure does Hubert feel with things as they are?

Drivers for change

If Hubert’s unhappy then he’s far more likely to welcome change. And the more unhappy he is, the more willing he will be to try something new.

If Hubert is comfortable with things as they are it may be hard to persuade him to do things differently – let alone to do things that are different.

So – in essence – a successful change needs to be driven by at least a moderate level of dissatisfaction.

But it also needs to overcome…

Restraints on change

Good research suggests that Hubert’s own feelings of security may be a critical barrier to change. And (by definition) those feelings will be very difficult for anyone except Hubert to determine! That’s because we’re talking about subjective perception, not objective reality. So to truly understand Hubert’s position you’d need to be inside his head. And seeing the world exactly as he sees it.

This subject is tricky enough to deserve a post of its own. So, for the moment, let’s assume we have at least a rough idea about Hubert’s level of felt security.

What effect will this have on his readiness to accept change?

Suppose Hubert is feeling insecure at the moment. That means his anxiety levels are high, and he will be unwilling or even unable to cope with change.

If, on the other hand, he is feeling very secure then he won’t be interested in new information or new ideas.

Drivers and restraints – how they work together

That – as you can see – creates a fascinating picture.

Ready for change? That depends on an individual's feelings of satisfaction and security

The shaded area is where Hubert is fairly dissatisfied –  but also feels reasonably secure. This is when he’s most likely to accept change.

To the right – where he feels almost completely secure – the chances of that become far smaller. If he feels both secure and satisfied (bottom right) then he will obviously be quite happy with things as they are. And If he feels completely secure he will probably become a contented and complacent ‘fat cat’. Even the boxes above, on the right, will be sparsely populated. That’s because new information and new ideas have little appeal to people who feel secure.

The left-hand column poses a different problem. If Hubert is here, even the strongest arguments will fail to cut much ice – because he is incapable of change. The very thought of change will induce the kind of panic that makes a rabbit freeze in the face of oncoming headlights!

So how can we find out where, on this diagram, Hubert feels he is?

And, more importantly, how can we move him to a position where he can and will change?

Commitment – is it there or not?

Commitment – is it there or not?

Any successful change process needs commitment from the people affected by it.

But how, exactly, do you measure commitment?

One definition might be that your people’s hearts and minds are aligned with their actions.

It sounds reasonable – but it could lead to hasty judgements.

Because people don’t always say what they mean, or mean what they say.

Some will apparently agree to a new process without question, and then continue to do what they’ve always done.

Others will grumble and complain, yet do pretty much what they have been asked to do.

Ideally, your process needs to have a way of telling the difference, so you can take the right corrective action with the right people.

It’s important not to assume that inappropriate behaviour automatically equals resistance to change. The simple fact is that most of us dislike change, and many of us love to grumble.

Habits, too, are hard to break. It’s easy for people to remain ‘trapped’ in old behaviour patterns even when they are no longer appropriate.

They may not even be aware this is happening – so their ‘hearts and minds’ may be fully engaged while their actions still lag behind what you are asking of them.

But suppose they just don’t want change?

Where there is genuine resistance, persuasion is nearly always better than forced conformance.

Anyone who doesn’t follow the process needs to understand how their behaviour damages the cause, and the impact that will have on themselves and others.

They may then need help and encouragement to develop new behaviours.

Of course, it’s possible they have good reason for resisting the new process. So it’s always advisable to get to the bottom of their issues before taking any action.

After all, they may have found a problem you hadn’t thought of!

But even if they haven’t, their feelings are important – especially if others share those feelings.

Forcing conformance may simply harden their resistance, and fatally damage your chances of achieving the change you need.

So rather than talking about ‘resistance’ to change, it may be more helpful to talk about readiness for change.

Conformance or commitment?

Conformance or commitment?

When it comes to change management, there are times when discussion is appropriate, and times when it isn’t.

For example, if the fire alarm is sounding and you’ve been ordered to leave the building, no one is interested in your objections to going outside. Even if you’re heading into the middle of a monsoon…

From a manager’s point of view, that’s the perfect model. There can be no argument, because:

  • It’s a quick win
  • It’s highly visible and easily measured.
  • And it doesn’t cost very much.

In fact it simply requires the slick application of carrot and stick. (In this case “Would you like to stay alive?” and “Oh, so you’d prefer to die, then?”)

Of course, most issues can’t be resolved quite so easily. Conformance is all very well, but if it’s a grumbling, resentful and rebellious conformance then you are simply creating problems for the future.

You need to think about hearts and minds as well – even if you have a sneaking sympathy for Nixon’s famous remark that if you grab someone hard enough in an (in)appropriate place, their hearts and minds will follow.

‘I insist you will like this…’

Gerard Hoffnung’s words were intended to be ironic, but some managers seem to take them literally. And the truth is that if an action needs to be done just once, or on a very few occasions, then conformance is all that’s needed.

People don’t have to think about it. And they don’t have to like it. They just need to do it.

The same does not apply to actions that must be regularly repeated. Here the simple application of sticks and carrots is rarely going to achieve the change you are looking for.

That’s when you will need commitment.

And you will also need to understand how commitment can be recognised, and the inevitable problems involved in asking people with ingrained habits to change their behaviour.