Changes in your business? You should plan, talk to staffers
By Joyce M. Rosenberg
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — As Nick Haschka bought four small horticultural businesses over the past two years, he had to help his new employees navigate almost constant change.
“They’ve had to get used to a new owner, new management style, and many new processes and tools,” says Haschka, owner of The Wright Gardner in South San Francisco, California.
Small-business owners who recognize the impact that change can have on employees can limit the fallout by helping staffers with the transition.
Mishandling change — whether it’s a new boss, office or procedures, or a turn in the company’s finances — can prompt staffers to leave or hurt their productivity. Change can also be more than a one-time event. It can be continuous, or, as in the case of Haschka’s business, periodic.
Haschka has taken several steps to help his new employees weather the changes. He’s worked with the previous owners to prepare staffers, many of whom drew some comfort from the fact that their former bosses felt secure about handing their businesses over to Haschka. And he’s sat down and talked to his new team members.
“There’s usually a lot of shock at the beginning when employees find out their owner is leaving and passing the torch to us,” Haschka says. “But we try to make it easy on them by listening and being responsive to their needs.”
He also asks his current employees to help.
“The employees from the previous acquisitions are in a good place to represent and be a sounding board for the new employees — they’ve all been in that place before, and recently,” he says.
Human resources consultants say business owners need to plan well and do a lot talking with staffers.
“People, no matter whether change is good or bad, fear change,” says Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, an HR provider based in Hollywood, Florida. “The only way to get through that fear is communicate, communicate, communicate. And when you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate again.”
Even a move to a new location requires change management. A year ago, Dave Cyphers bought a building in Crofton, Maryland, 10 miles (16 kilometers) away from the office he had rented for his marketing company. Cyphers, who has 18 staffers, made them part of the planning process. He took longtime senior employees to see the building before he bought it, and discussed with each worker how the move would affect their commutes. He discussed the new seating plan with them, and gave each money to decorate individual work areas.
“You work hard to put a team together. The last thing you want to do is blow it all up by saying, ‘we’re moving, let the chips fall where they may,'” says Cyphers, owner of The Cyphers Agency.
Startups can go through significant changes, and while staffers expect their companies to evolve, sometimes the direction is unexpected.
When Brad Weisberg started his insurance claims technology company, consumers were his target market. After about a year, he realized there were few chances for people using his service to be repeat customers, and that he needed to pivot his company and cater to businesses instead. The change wasn’t so simple — for one thing, he had to convince investors that it was the right thing to do. And Weisberg’s 12 staffers, who understood the world of tech startups, worried about the company’s future.
“They were very anxious,” says Weisberg, whose company, Snapsheet, is based in Chicago. “They had taken a chance on me. They had left jobs to come with me.”
Weisberg helped his staffers by showing them his analysis of the company’s situation. They were all startup and tech savvy, and after Weisberg explained the situation to them, they were on board.