June 22, 2011

Phased Approach to Change

The other day, Apple released the newest version of their professional video software, Final Cut X. This release, while touting several new features, also introduced a new process for editing video. This change is so severe, that the new software won’t even read the files of the old software. Needless to say, this release has garnered a lot of press, much of it negative. In fact, the announcement was a trending topic on Twitter the day after the release. Thinking about Apple’s decision, which in the short term at least, is a controversial one, got me wondering how other businesses approach making major changes.

Over the last several months, I observed a local business transition ownership. The original owner, in business for over twenty years, had an established clientele and a specific way of doing business. He was old-school in his approach. While adding some new things, such as a business web site, his business worked the same in 2011 as it did in 2001. And he was very successful. So successful, he decided to retire and sell his business to a new, younger individual. The announcement of the sale, in conjunction with the new owner’s youth, immediately caused some concern in the long time customers. It was educational to see how this new owner smoothly transitioned the business while easing the concerns of these customers.

Here is what he did.

Key Focus Areas
The first thing he did was determine what areas he wanted to focus on. He decided on the staff, the products and services, the facilities, and the marketing approach.

Here are some of the things he did. Note that these changes took place over a six month timeframe.

Company Staff
The first thing he did was start working in the business before he actually took ownership. This allowed him to not only get acclimated wih the customer base, but equally importantly, allowed him to begin building relationships with the staff he would be inheriting.

Products and Services
He started out providing the same services as the original owner. Then as the next few months went by he slowly added new services, which complemented existing services. He also expanded the hours of business providing more options to take advantage of these services.

Facilities and Equipment
He moved slowly in making physical changes. These ranged from new room layouts to better utilize the space to new equipment supporting the new services. He even added a TV in the waiting room. These changes were done so subtly, if you weren’t paying attention you might not have noticed.

Marketing and Communication
He saved this area for last. Only once he had introduced the new services, the new facilities, the expanded hours, did he look at changing the name. This was significant, as the business was named after the former owner. For the first few months he kept all access points the same. Then when he finally changed the name, it was expected and not a big deal. With this change, he also implemented a complete set of modern marketing tools. In addition to the name change, he designed a new web site, set up a fan page on facebook, created a Twitter account and introduced a monthly newsletter/blog.

As you can see, this approach is very different from Apple’s. His phased approach to change has allowed him to successfully transition without controversy and has worked very well.

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