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Updated May 02, 2024

A 6-Step Guide to Making a Change Within Your Organization

Don’t rely on the same way of doing business year after year. Seek out new ideas and methodologies to stay successful.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Even the most successful businesses can’t afford to stagnate by relying on the same technology, ideas and strategies that have worked in years past. Upper management may be in charge of the big changes that alter the course of the business, but many of the day-to-day operations are in employees’ hands.

Sometimes, it is these employees who come up with the best and most creative ideas to help the business keep up with the times. This guide provides some simple steps for implementing changes within your organization so it can evolve as smoothly as possible.

How to make changes at work

Change is scary, but if you have an idea you believe in, it’s worth pursuing. Before you make an adjustment within your organization, follow these steps to have the highest chance of success.

1. Understand what you want.

Whatever the idea, whether it’s suggesting new technology or proposing a rebranding, it must be developed and realistic. Simply saying, “We should use a new social media platform,” for example, isn’t enough. Which social media platform? Who would be in charge of it? And will it make a difference for the business?

Ask yourself enough questions about your idea to make sure you fully understand it. You may decide that the idea is not worth the time or effort.

2. Test the waters.

Any idea you bring to upper management should first have strong support from your co-workers, especially those who would be affected by the change, and any senior members of the organization who will have a say in the idea’s approval.

  • Get co-worker support. Co-worker support is vital, as change must be supported by numbers. Speak with co-workers about the idea to see if they would be on board with the change.
  • Get senior-level support. Set up a meeting with your direct supervisor and, if possible, another influential member of the organization. This is where you can begin selling your idea. Refrain from gossiping, bashing or otherwise complaining about the organization; engage with your supervisors productively to see if they show interest in your idea. This may help you identify drawbacks you may not have seen or questions you must answer when you prepare your pitch.
TipBottom line
When you're selling your idea, think of it as any other sales pitch. Check out our article about the secrets to appearing confident during a sales pitch.

3. Build your plan.

A good idea needs a good plan. Before you set up the meeting to pitch your idea, examine all possible angles.

  • Timeline: How long will it take to implement?
  • Budget: How much will it cost?
  • Requirements: What do you need from the company to make the change happen?
  • Payoff: How will it help the organization?

The last consideration is key. When you are pitching in the meeting, think about what the audience, in particular, will gain from your idea. If someone is in charge of budgeting for the department, for example, they may be interested in an idea that saves the company money and makes their job easier.

4. Anticipate resistance.

If you’ve already spoken with your supervisor or another higher-level executive at the organization, you may have already experienced some resistance to your idea. It’s not necessarily that upper management doesn’t want to hear your ideas or make changes within the organization; they simply have eyes on different aspects of the business, and many ideas end up costing more than they are worth.

According to the book “Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead, people often use one of four strategies to turn down an idea: delaying the approval process so it remains forever in limbo, asking unnecessarily detailed questions, inciting anxiety or fear, or launching personal attacks.

Anticipate these tactics before your meeting, and have answers ready. Answer questions concisely and confidently. Stumbling over words or rambling at length makes it appear like you don’t know the answers.

5. Give a great presentation.

It is imperative to set up an official meeting to speak with upper management, as emails and phone calls are easily ignored. The meeting, which can be virtual or in person, should involve your direct supervisor and any executives with whom you had previously discussed the idea, as well as key people who have sway in the department. [See these tips for highly productive online meetings.]

If you’ve anticipated the resistance, you’ll be able to answer any questions and feel more confident with your presentation. However, don’t go overboard with numbers and data. Offering irrelevant information can confuse the attendees, which could make them feel ignorant for not understanding. It can also obfuscate your idea. 

>> Learn more: Things to Include in Your Next PowerPoint Presentation

In addition, answer all questions posed by the attendees even if the queries seem negative. Presenting yourself as confident and open to criticism strengthens your idea.

6. Celebrate your success — or keep trying.

If your idea isn’t approved, don’t be disappointed. It can be difficult to make change happen within an organization. You can continue finding ways to make positive changes and work on your methods of getting your ideas approved.

If you do succeed, make sure to thank those who helped you get there. Change within an establishment takes a lot of work and follow-through, and it often requires the help of many people. Show your appreciation for their belief in your idea and how they empower employees like you, and continue offering ideas to keep the business moving forward.

TipBottom line
Don’t be afraid to speak up as an employee. Your voice matters just as much as your manager’s.

What not to do when implementing changes

If you’re a manager implementing company changes, avoid these mistakes in the process.

Failing to explain the purpose and need for the change

Change can be scary and intimidating for employees, especially if they don’t understand why it’s happening and how it will affect them. How you implement a change can affect your company culture. When presenting your idea, you must focus on what’s driving this change and highlight its benefits to the business. 

For instance, the proposed change might streamline tedious tasks, thereby giving employees more time to flourish in their areas of expertise and interest. Communicate this message with enthusiasm, and be available to address any questions or concerns. Offer to hold a company-wide meeting to go over these changes, send out memos that detail the next steps, and be as detailed as possible when explaining the overall process.

Not providing the resources to support your employees through the change

It takes time to adjust to a change. When you discuss your ideas, present the ways you plan to guide employees through new initiatives and provide them with the proper resources to support their growth. Ask team managers to give everyone enough time to process the change and adapt accordingly. 

Also consider providing coaching or tools that will assist employees on their journey through this change. For example, if you alter systems or software, don’t expect employees to understand how to use it. Rather, offer the proper training, and be patient with them as they learn.

Being vague about your vision for the company

While you might think it will soften the blow, being vague about the changes you’re looking to implement will only cause confusion and anxiety among your team. Be detailed and excited when explaining your vision for the company’s future. Your team will appreciate your passion and thoughtfulness.

How will the change improve the company? In what ways will day-to-day operations shift? What will the business look like a year from now, after these changes take full effect? Answer these questions comprehensively, and remain open to any other queries your team or managers may have. 

Neglecting to follow an action plan

Action plans can alleviate anxiety and confusion about your business’s future. After communicating your vision for the future of the company, you must provide an action plan to your team so that you’re all on the same page. A step-by-step guide keeps you on track toward meeting your goals. Otherwise, the day-to-day shuffle may hinder the changes you’d like to implement.

Draft an action plan with higher-ups in your company, and share it with your team. Offer to continue checking on your company’s progress to ensure that employees are carrying out your initiatives. Full company support is crucial in the implementation of changes.

Bottom LineBottom line
As a leader, you need to communicate with and support your employees when making changes of any sort in your company. Be available to address all questions and concerns they might have. You’re on the same team, so work together.

When you should make changes at work

There are many reasons to push for change in a company. Here are some situations that call for changes:

  • You’re using outdated technology. Newer, more effective technology, software or services can increase efficiency and save money. [Learn how workflow automation can help your business.]
  • You’re undergoing a merger or acquisition. Mergers and acquisitions can turn a company on its head; changes might be necessary to ease the transition when you’re merging with or acquiring businesses. [See how to handle internal communication during a merger.]
  • Positive leadership is lacking. If the current leadership hurts company morale, it’s time to push for change, whether it’s calling for more communication or a new leader.
  • You’re in a time of crisis. A crisis can trigger an array of issues and concerns at a company. Often, to cope with a crisis, companies must shift gears and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • You need to update policies. Keep company policies up to date to ensure you’re not operating by old models.

All of these instances call for change. While you might feel like you don’t have a say if you aren’t a manager, you still have a right to voice your ideas; you just need to do it strategically.

Skye Schooley and Lisa Cozad contributed to this article.

author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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