Thursday 26 April 2018

Let the new year be a time for change - an opportunity for growth

'People, too, are changing. The concern for better health and wellness, work-life balance, career progression, buying a first home are just some of the things that alter our thinking and habits.' Photo: Stock Image
'People, too, are changing. The concern for better health and wellness, work-life balance, career progression, buying a first home are just some of the things that alter our thinking and habits.' Photo: Stock Image

Alan O'Neill

The Christmas holidays give us lots of time to reflect on the past year and to plan for the year ahead. I too have thought a lot about how the world has changed, what might be in store for the future and how to best cope with that.

Looking back at the big changes that will have lasting impact, we can't help but think about our new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, the Brexit vote, Trump and other political shenanigans. Although it looks like we may have a soft border with the UK, Brexit may still be a challenge for many of us, due to the risk of tariffs, costs and other compliance measures.

Currency fluctuations, especially sterling, will also impact margin or add cost for many. And that's tough when most of us are just recovering from the lost decade of austerity. For retailers in particular, the reality of transparent online shopping across borders has added a whole new dimension of price-led competition.

People, too, are changing. The concern for better health and wellness, work-life balance, career progression, buying a first home are just some of the things that alter our thinking and habits. Customers in all walks of life - business-to-consumer and business-to-business - are also more astute, value-conscious and have high expectations.

And of course, let's not forget the fast-paced changes in technology. In facilitating the digital revolution, technology is the biggest change driver of all. There is no doubt the volume, complexity and speed of change we are all experiencing would in no way be as dramatic if technology wasn't such an enabler.

Looking at change differently

Doesn't that all sound somewhat grumpy and negative? What if I had written all of the above using words like 'positive' and 'opportunity', instead of 'challenge' and so on? Well, that is not entirely real either. It's a question of balance and perspective and recognising that every one of us has different things going on in our world. I'm not a particular fan of making new year resolutions - but I do believe that the new year should give us a fresh start in so many ways.

As a concept, we are all aware of change management more than ever. I've been studying and practising as a facilitator of change for more than 20 years. In my early days as a change agent, I'd often get funny looks when I introduced myself. That doesn't happen any more.

Undoubtedly, change is more of an issue these days. Whether it's at a level where macro-economic, political and sociological issues impact our world, or at a micro level where we're launching a new product, changing a process or hiring a new person, change needs to be acknowledged, embraced and planned for. That applies to large corporates, to SMEs, to the public sector - and to us as individuals in our own lives.

Change is indeed inevitable and coping with it is up to each of us individually. If our intention is to grow personally and grow our businesses, resisting change is just futile, I'm afraid.

Planning for organisational change

When I spoke at the recent Intertrade Ireland Brexit Conference in Croke Park, I outlined the need to plan ahead. For some, that sounds like a cliché. But the alarming reality we discovered is that while we all know of the importance of planning ahead, few of us actually do it. And it's not just about Brexit.

If you have a team of people, do include as many as is appropriate in the planning activity. The potential synergies that you will get are invaluable. Different ideas, experiences and perspectives will contribute to a better plan, provided the meeting is well structured and well facilitated.

Listening is a key skill that ensures a level of respect and active participation. Without it, participants are likely to keep their good ideas to themselves. A meeting effectively managed by an experienced chairperson should provide for balanced participation across the team. That starts with drawing up an agenda in advance with clearly defined objectives, topics for discussion and time slots for each topic.

If for whatever reason, it is not appropriate to include some people in a planning meeting, then why not consult them in advance? In a number of client projects recently, where the organisational structure was being reviewed and refreshed, I consulted with a wide representative number of the teams in advance of the planning workshops. I got to understand their thoughts and concerns. That input was extremely valuable in ensuring a more robust plan.

Coping with personal change

I'm very mindful that change is difficult for many people. There are two points to consider here. One is that the organisation has a duty to manage change effectively. Businesses should take comfort in knowing that there are tried and tested methodologies for dealing with change.

The other point it that we all need to take personal responsibility for embracing change. There is nothing more tiring for others to hear you say: "But we've always done it this way!"

At a recent conference for a division of Lufthansa in Frankfurt, I was asked: "Why should we change, given that we've grown revenue every year for the past 25 years?"

My response was that we can't guarantee that what worked in the past will also work in a future that is changing dynamically.

So if you do make new year's resolutions, consider the changes you need to make in 2018.

Finally, it's important for my own personal development to be updated and to keep abreast of new ideas and concepts. For that reason, I'll be attending the Pendulum Summit this coming week, to be inspired, compare speaker styles and to reboot for the new year.

Alan O'Neill is a change consultant and non-executive director. For 25-plus years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Alan-oneill.com. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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