SMBs must change, or be left behind

change ahead sign

Change is something that Australian executives and office workers strive for yet find difficult to achieve. New research from Canon has revealed some interesting statistics…

While the majority recognise its importance, Australian businesses are not embracing change. Change is a natural occurrence, not only in business, but life in general and it’s how we adapt to that change that is important. Change is often the part that’s either left out, or is an afterthought for most businesses, yet it can be critical to the success of a project.

In order to understand the attitudes of business executives and office workers towards change, Canon Australia conducted two research studies to investigate further and look at what it takes to implement successful change in an organisation. The first survey questioned business owners and senior decision-makers responsible for change, the second focused on people within business not responsible for change.

The research revealed some interesting insights and disparities into the thinking of business owners and employees across a number of verticals. So why are we not embracing change and what can be done to implement successful change?

The importance of embracing change

Change is an important priority within pretty much all Australian companies, with 88 percent of senior decision-makers considering it either an ‘extremely high’ or ‘high priority’ within their business. This was echoed among the employee respondents with the majority considering it a priority. Senior decision-makers believed change to be a catalyst for a number of benefits, including improved cost efficiencies and increased productivity.

A key finding of the study was that technology is not only at the centre of how businesses in Australia will change but it is considered the most significant change organisations will go through in the next decade. This was over and above other areas such as general company changes, people changes and wider economic/legislative changes, productivity and margins. However, it’s not about implementing technology for technology’s sake. Organisations need to take the time to look at how their business is evolving and growing, working out how technology can align with the business, changing it for the better and making it more competitive.

In a world of accelerating change and global competition, those organisations that are not continually adapting their strategies, processes and being agile to risk, are being left behind. On an international scale, the study revealed some interesting statistics. Senior decision-makers ranked Australian businesses fourth in terms of their willingness to change, behind China and India and the US but ahead of Japan, the UK, Canada and Brazil. Employee respondents were more optimistic, ranking Australian companies equal first with China as the most willing to change.

Competitive advantage is evidently top of mind for both senior decision-makers and employees alike with a clear majority believing their business would be left behind if it does not change with an average 77 percent across both surveys (87 percent for the senior decision-makers and 67 percent for employees.) Yet despite agreeing change was important (86 percent) just 39 percent of Australian organisations embrace it and under half (49 percent) take a proactive stance on change.  What are the obstacles to change and how can we overcome them?

Obstacles to change

People’s resistance to change was considered the biggest barrier – ranked by 30 percent of senior decision-makers and 37 percent of employees. This was followed by lack of vision or understanding by executives, along with lack of direction or leadership from senior management cited by employees. Fear of the unknown was cited across the two surveys as the leading reason people are resistant to change, followed by people liking the way they currently work, a lack of trust in new systems, a lack of trust in management direction, and too much change already going on in the organisation.

An interesting finding from the research is the gap between how effective Australian business leaders feel they are when it comes to implementing change, versus how effective employees really think they are. Eighty four percent of senior decision-makers felt they have the necessary skills to deliver change but when it came to the employees, only 47 percent thought the leaders within their company had the necessary skills to help deliver change.

The Canon research showed that the gap for many businesses facing change is the failure to equip the all-important people managers with the necessary tools to communicate change effectively. Strong leadership at the top, coupled with change managers at the front line, are both vital for driving the message.