Become a Change Champion in 2014

Has your business hit the ceiling – with flat growth or lackluster profits that leave you scratching your head?  You might have even tried making some changes, but somehow you’ve hit the breaks and your competitors are whipping past you.

Hitting the ceiling is a natural part of growth, with many small businesses failing to break through – and 50% going out of business within 5 years.  To stay in business – and to continue growing – it’s either change or die!

But why is change so hard?  Why do our brains resist change so tenaciously?

Change is Difficult, Not Changing is Fatal

According to a recent medical study, 90% of patients whose heart disease was so severe that they had to have bypass surgery or angioplasties were unable to make healthy lifestyle changes.  Dr. Edward Miller, CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University, said the patients were warned about the dangers of smoking, drinking, poor eating, stress, being overweight and out of shape – yet were unable to make healthy changes to support healing after their surgeries.

Changing behavior isn’t just the biggest challenge in health care, it’s the most important challenge for businesses trying to stay competitive and respond to changing marketplace dynamics – such as the rise of a new competitor or a shift from a regulated to a deregulated environment.

Maybe 2014 is the time to become a champion for change!  So, where do you begin?

Change Yourself First

You can’t be a change agent for your organization if you’re not learning and growing on the inside.  The day you stop growing and changing is the day you start to lose credibility as a leader.

If you want to grow your business, you need to embrace change and become its champion.  Start reading, learning and studying to accelerate your progress.  Get out of your comfort zone by speaking at an industry event or taking a leadership role in a trade organization that could benefit your business.  Hire a coach, take a leadership class, or join a networking group to support your growth.

And remember, if change feels comfortable, it really isn’t change.

Change or Lose Your Mind

Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor at the University of California, San Francisco, says that the brain’s ability to change – its “plasticity” – is lifelong.  But in order to overcome our tendency to resist change, continuous learning is key.

What happens if you don’t work at mental rejuvenation?  Merzenich says that people who live to 85 have a 50/50 chance of becoming senile.  While the issue for heart patients is “change or die,” the issue for everyone is “change or lose your mind!” Mastering the ability to change isn’t just a crucial strategy for business.  It’s a necessity for health.

Evolution vs. Revolution

If you believe your organization really needs substantial change, how are you going to shake it up?  You can take an “evolutionary” approach of tweaking the way your organization runs and making incremental improvements that aren’t highly disruptive.  This could work well if your business is fairly healthy.

In contrast, “revolutionary change” – the kind that turns the place upside down and puts it back together again – can lead to better results in the right circumstances.  Paradoxically, radical, sweeping changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones, since people lose interest and become de-motivated with little results over time.

Management consulting firm, Bain & Co., studied 21 recent corporate transformations and found that the successful ones were completed in 2 years or less, and the means were drastic, with the CEOs firing most of the top management.  In most cases, these companies enjoyed quick, tangible results, with stock prices rising 250% a year on average as they revived – proving rapid improvements can be a powerful motivator.

Of course radical change often isn’t possible in business situations. It’s important to understand that radical changes can consume all your organization’s energy and bring it to a grinding halt. So take care that change is prudent and well-planned.

Challenge Your People

If you’re going to make changes in your business, you’re going to have to inspire change in your people as well.  Yet just like the heart patients who were unable to make healthy changes despite their life-threatening situations, your team, customers and vendors will fight change as well.

Luckily, neuroscience offers us some new answers.  According to recent studies, people won’t change when only presented with analysis or facts.  People become open to change when they connect emotionally to an issue or cause.  Challenge people to learn and grow, using positive stories that are simple, easy to identify with and emotionally uplifting.  And since innovation comes about when people are inspired and engaged in continuous learning, your commitment to positive change could give you a competitive edge!

Reframe Change

How do you do that?  Reframe change from negative emotions like fear, discouragement or frustration – to hope, optimism and appreciation.  If you offer a new vision of change and communicate your vision regularly with passion, persuasion and a solid plan, you’ll inspire and empower people toward meaningful change that creates positive results!

Celebrate Short-Term Wins

Remember along the way of change that it’s always important to celebrate some quick, positive results – sometimes called “short-term wins.” These are victories that nourish faith in the change, emotionally reward people, keep the critics at bay and build momentum.  Without sufficient wins that are visible, timely and meaningful to others, change efforts run into serious problems.

Mastering the ability to change isn’t just a crucial strategy for business.  It’s a necessity for health.  Don’t end up like the person who won’t change – even when their life – or their business – is at stake.

If you want to be better, embrace change.  Become a Change Champion in 2014!

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