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Oct 25

Changing the Rules

Posted by: Steve Marr

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In our business environments the winds of change are always blowing, requiring that we make adjustments. King Solomon wrote that there is always “a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend” (Ecclesiastes 3:6-7 NIV). At different times, we will need to take different actions, and in taking those actions we will need to change how we do business. Part of that change will be to adjust the rules with your staff.

Adopting several principles when changing your business rules will make the difference between an effective transition and a confused and hurt staff. 

First, we need to change as quickly as our circumstances do. Peter owned a retail store in which 30% of his business was comprised by catalog sales. The catalog business required the staff to take orders over the phone, answer questions, and pack and ship the orders. Peter invested a lot of money in additional advertising, which doubled catalog sales to 60% of the business. He even planned to focus even more on mail orders in the future. With the fast growth, Peter started mixing up assignments by shifting store service staff to the telephones.

Several employees were upset about the move. They had been hired for retail sales, and now they felt like telephone operators. The Accounting Assistant now spent most of the day checking the credit card payment glitches. New people were hired, but the existing staff was unhappy with their new responsibilities.   

Second, we need to change the rules when our plan or strategy is not working.  Dr. Kim operated a new dental practice, which was struggling to gather the needed patients to cover the bills. His office hours were 9-6 M-F and 4 hours on Saturday. He changed his hours to 12-9 M-F and all day on Saturday. The evening and Saturday times quickly filled up, which generated the needed revenue. However, his support staff was less than thrilled with the new hours and quit within a few months, believing they were being treated unfairly. 

    Third, we need to change our products and services to better serve our target audience. A bookstore with a lot of business from street traffic believed opening a high scale coffee and smoothie bar would bring folks into the store and boost sales. The change required several sales staff to learn how to make the drinks, and this was a big shift from what they were hired to do. Over a few months, most of the staff left. 

In all of these instances, clear communication could have prevented disillusioned staff members. When we have decided to implement change, we need to clearly communicate those changes to our staff. We can become concerned about possible reactions or anger with our changes, but as King Solomon said, “In the end, people appreciate frankness more then flattery” (Proverbs 28:23 NLT). Making changes is not easy on us and not easy on our staff, but failing to explain the changes makes it almost impossible, not to mention the unnecessary confusion, frustration, and poor performance from your staff when you need them the most.

Take your employees aside and explain what changes you need to make, but also explain why and how the change will affect them.

Peter, who owned the retail store, failed to communicate the new roles that were being created. He could have framed the discussion in a more positive manner in order to point out that several sales people, because of their outstanding product knowledge, would be asked to assist customers on the phone rather then directly in the store.

Dr. Kim needed to share with the support staff why the changes were needed to keep the practice above water and then to listen to feedback. If he had heard that two employees could not work evenings because of family responsibilities, he could have worked out a transition. The employees might have started looking for a different position with the right hours and Dr. Kim could have begun the search for replacements.  In the case of the bookstore offering smoothies and coffee, the staff should have been told that the reason for the change was to increase traffic to create a new income stream, thus improving book sales. The coffee and smoothie bar was a fun way to create the new store vision.

Business leaders will need to change the rules and sometimes the roles of their staff when circumstances change. Sometimes they will need to adjust their plan. Communicating openly and honestly as you make the changes will make the difference between employees who are enthusiastically part of you new vision and those who become disconnected.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

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