Life isn't static and neither is business. Change is necessary whether we love it or not. And flexibility is crucial to success. Biz gurus will preach about the needs of your customers shifting over time, but it's important to remember that the needs of your employees and the business itself do as well.
In recent light of the COVID-19 crisis and the significant changes many businesses are needing to make in response, many companies are left with no choice but to change their policies in order to keep up with the new normal.
If you find yourself in this position, here's what you need to know to do it right.
Policy is structure. It's "how we do things here;" it's the company line. And while policy reflects the principles upon which you've established your business, don't forget that those principles can change too. For example, maybe a man started his biz back in the dark ages, when it was still okay to say "no girls allowed" in managerial positions. Now, though? That same man has achieved a degree of enlightenment, and half his CEOs are women. His principles changed, and his written or unwritten policy against women in upper levels did too.
When it comes to policy change, enacting new ways of doing things can change the very culture of your business. And when a policy change is put into place with an eye toward the needs of your customers, employees or the world in general (hello, office recycling bins!), great things can happen. Your company can become more successful, for one thing, both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction and employee retention.
Policy change happens when there is enough demand for it or because a situation simply requires adapting or falling behind. This can happen naturally over the course of a business' growth. As you serve a wider variety of clientele, you'll find yourself dealing with situations you couldn't predict back when you were drafting your business plan. How you deal with each new situation establishes a precedent and, if codified, a policy for dealing with those circumstances moving forward. It's a very organic manner for policy change or creation to occur.
A more active form of policy change involves direct pressure from your clientele. After all, your business exists to serve its customers' needs, and a change in policy is one way to improve your ability to do this. Something as simple as allowing customers to now pick up their order at your shop, rather than wait for it to be delivered, might be an extremely lucrative change in policy. And if that's what they've been asking for, showing you listened and are willing to accommodate them will earn you some big loyalty points.
Your business also has an obligation to its employees, and their needs can force policy change as well. As you grow from a one-woman operation into a business with full time employees, the way you do things will flex and grow as well. Healthcare, vacation time and parental leave are just a few things you'll need to figure out and make work for the people who work so hard for you.
Change doesn't happen overnight. Any policy change you make in your business will need to planned, researched, carefully created and thoughtfully put into place. After all, policy affects your entire organization, its culture and the way you serve your customers. So while change is so often necessary, it should never be done lightly. Here are the steps you need to take in order to do it well.
Recognizing the need for change is the first step. Could you better serve your customers by changing your ordering or delivery policies? Or are your long-time clients starting to suggest (or complain about) something they want more of? Asking the right questions is key to finding the most useful answers. You can even hire someone to research potential policy changes and how they can best be put into place.
Now that you know you need to change, figuring out the best way to do so is your next step. Some things you'll need to think about include who your policy will affect, whether this should be a permanent or temporary change (perhaps to deal with a particularly busy season coming up) and how you will put these changes into place. You need to have a plan.
Let your customers and employees know what you're changing, how, who it pertains to and when this policy change will officially occur. Don't be afraid to discuss the why here, especially if this change is in the best interest of your customers and their needs. Creating and enacting policy change can involve a lot of time and effort. Don't be afraid to do a little horn-tooting along the way.
Set a date and stick to it, making your policy change effective across the board. If you have multiple locations, make sure to inform and prepare all employees for the change. Advertise as needed, keeping your clientele in the loop as well. And again, this is a marketing opportunity, especially if this change is the direct result of customer demand. Show off the fact that you are concerned with the needs of those you serve and aren't afraid to adapt accordingly.
Consistency is the key to successful policy change. Doing something in a new way but only half the time is worse than never changing at all. It communicates a sloppiness and lack of efficiency that will color both your customers' and your employees' perception of your business. It's not enough to plan change. You have to actually do it and do it well.
How do I formulate a policy?
First, ask what your business needs to change and why. What need is going unfulfilled or could be met in a better fashion? By naming the concern you need to address, you can formulate a new policy or change an existing one in a much more targeted and efficient manner. Focus on the change you need to make and finding the best way to do it.
How do policies work?
Policy dictates everything from how you take an order to how you interview and hire new employees. What you do and how you do it form the framework, the underlying structure, of daily operations for your business. They're your rules, and they exist for a reason. Also, when evaluating your policies, think about the ones you operate under that maybe aren't written down, yet influence your day to day nonetheless. When is the last time you thought about your company's attitude about things?
Why are policies made?
Again, policy provides structure and organization. Putting them into writing codifies your code of conduct, making onboarding an easier process and giving you something to reference when dealing with different situations. Rules can change, though. Being able to keep a flexible mindset about how you "always" do things is a keen business tool to keep sharp. Being able to enact constructive policy change as needed can give your business a real leg up.
Heather Adams is a creative content & copy writer specializing in business storytelling.
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