Q: Technology has affected and impacted on my business in a big way which has resulted in significant changes in the way we will do business both now and in the future. This means lots of changes in work practices and I am struggling to keep my staff on board and getting them to embrace the change. Is there any advice you can give?
A: You will have heard me before quoting the proverb "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". This has to be the mantra of any business and change is part of every single business.
Some businesses more than others have had the pace of change accelerated by advances in technology and from what you describe, the change within your business seems to be moving at a very fast rate. The most critical element of any change with regard to staff is having lots of dialogue and that staff feel part of the change.
Staff can get worried very often where technology is mentioned, about the future stability of their own jobs and this can sometimes trigger an adverse reaction. You must be transparent and share facts clearly with your staff. Set out how technology is impacting, how it is affecting the business, how the business can embrace certain elements with positive outcomes and, most importantly, how this will all impact on the roles of individual staff.
Sometimes businesses take their staff to another similar business that has already embraced this change so that staff can see at first hand the impact which will help them feel less threatened by what is to come in the future. In my experience, if you don't communicate change properly then the "grapevine" takes over and fear and negativity tend to take their toll. Don't let a vacuum of information emerge. Develop clear plans for the business and put lots of energy into communicating these with each of your staff.
As owner, it is your job to ensure the business survives into the next generation and that will involve lots of change over the decades. Your staff's support for these changes is a critical element of the business's survival.
Q: I am not a big fan of writing business plans but I am required to have one for an upcoming finance application. I see this as a complete waste of time that won't mirror reality. What are your thoughts?
A: The purpose of a business plan is not to satisfy the needs of anyone else but to allow you to sense check your business proposition yourself. The overall objective is that, when you have finished the business plan, you should be able to hand it to a complete stranger, get them to read it, and for them to have a full understanding of what you are doing in your business and to see that same opportunity that you see.
In the process of writing the business plan and conducting any feasibility study, any flaws in your thought process or business model will start to become evident to you.
Many people get obsessed producing business plans "because someone else asked for it" and the challenge for most business owners is that no one has taken the time to explain to them the significant benefit a business plan can be to them.
The plan will bring you enormous direction and clarity in terms of the direction you want the business to move in over the next number of years. Without this clarity, there is always a danger that the business can zig-zag through its early journey and end up at some destination that was never intended, and that could well be the wrong place.
Some businesses I meet use an argument for not completing a business plan, as things are always changing in the business world and that the business plan is out of date as soon as it is written. The big thing to understand is that you are in control of the business plan and at any stage you can, and should, update the plan if the market situation is changing. You will also find that any alterations that do occur in the market place can sometimes be slower and your business plan has relevance for a lot longer than you think.
Finally, don't fall into the trap that many do and get someone else to write your business plan, in which case you end up having no ownership. Write it up yourself and make it meaningful to reflect the true direction you want to take the business.