One thing we can all be certain of is change, the world is constantly changing, and as this happens, people have to change the way they respond to the world around them.  In this ever-changing world, it is interesting to note that although our basic needs don’t change, our tastes and how we get them satisfied do change.

Not everyone is able to adapt, because conformity is such a powerful force in our world. It takes courage to go up against societal norms, challenge the status quo, and to take on the majority and their widely held beliefs. The threat of being different or going against the grain is a powerful deterrent.

Having said this, we are perhaps the most adaptable creatures on Earth, creating communities, organisations, cities and nations that support billions of people in diverse and often harsh environments all over the globe. Our unique adaptability has enabled us to scale, diversify and innovate.  Conformity and adaptability are not opposing but complementary forces. One is not right, nor the other wrong. They exist side by side in our makeup. A healthy balance enables individuals and civilizations to survive and thrive, to maintain stability while moving forward at a reasonable pace.

In business, when you seem to be falling behind and are no longer succeeding, that is a clear indication that the status quo cannot be maintained and you will need to change.  To survive, small businesses have to embrace change. True leadership is showcased by a business that not only survives disruption, but also capitalises on today’s frequent and accelerating changes, using them to their own advantage.

The hard part is staying ahead of the curve, trying to change faster than the environmental changes that threaten viability. In order to achieve this, the focus must be to look beyond competition and market share to the more fundamental questions of survival and sustainability in a turbulent and continuously changing environment.

The fundamental problem with bringing about change is that people want things to stay exactly as they were.  Understanding this psychology and learning to combat it will go a long way to embracing this new challenge.   There are four levels of change, from easiest to hardest: knowledge, attitude, individual change and group change.

Knowledge is fairly easy to change but attitudes are more difficult. People can easily understand what one might want to do and even agree with the reasons, yet, they resist change. The next most difficult level to change is individual behaviour.  If you as the business owner can learn to be more adaptable, this will go a long way to embracing change.  Having a small organisation can be an advantage – you are likely to be able to change quicker than a larger company.  This is what makes organisational change the toughest kind of change. The larger the organisation, the more difficult it is to bring about a monumental change.

For business owners, there are three typical reactions to change:

a. Denial: When things change, especially unexpectedly, our first and very normal reaction is to deny it; denial is a coping mechanism. We approach change with the attitude that if we ignore change and wait long enough it will go away and things will get back to normal.

b. Bargaining and Negotiation: Even when we perceive that the situation — the change — will not go away, we still firmly believe that things worked better before the change. So we try to bargain for reinstating the old system. We campaign for a return to the “good old days”.

c. Frustration: Eventually, no matter what we do, reality steps in and we realise that change is here to stay. Faced with this inescapable fact, and that we can do nothing about it, we get frustrated. Frustration comes in many forms and can be directed at those responsible for the change, at those closest to us, and even at ourselves. There is no rational logic to our frustration.

In this situation, the various responses are the following:

a. Accept: The cold hard truth is that change is an accelerating phenomenon in the 21st century, an ongoing constant process, and it is here to stay. Since it is an ongoing process we have to look at the past. You have to think of key events when you were successful in dealing with change. How did you grow and meet the demands of your changing environment? If you did it before, you can do it again. It all starts with the first step: acceptance.

b. Communicate: Don’t be afraid to share your feelings and be ready to talk to your friends and associates. Chances are they have been through similar situations and felt the same way. As we take time to gather information, talking things through helps allay our fears and in the process we amass an inventory of new and useful information as well as skills.

c. Plan: Managing change successfully starts with new goals and a well-designed plan. You know best where you are and where you want to be; now you have to articulate how you are going to get there. Clarify goals and expectations. Get feedback from others. Start with small, deliberate steps and reward your team with meaningful incentives. It is critical to keep everybody focused on the desired outcome.

The key to success in dealing with change — at an individual and at an organisational level — lies in our willingness to accept change and to respond at lightning speed to the demands placed by our environment with empathy for all those who are involved. It is normal to want to resist change: to try bargaining and negotiating things back to the way they were; and to feel frustrated when the change inevitably continues. It is equally important to understand that these feelings are within the leader as well as all team members and must be dealt with if the business is to grow as a cohesive group. In order to survive in a globalised society and in a universe that is constantly changing, we need to see change for what it is: the natural order of things! We need to recognise this and to master the techniques to become part of that natural order so that the business survives and thrives in the storm of change.

Like it or not, we live in a complex and chaotic world.  Conforming may help you survive, but learning to adapt is the way to thrive in an ever-changing world. The choice is yours.