Develop Your “Ability to Change” Entrepreneur Skills

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elementscpa-ability-to-change-entrepreneur-skillDespite the fact that ability to change is an entrepreneur’s most important skill, most are only vaguely familiar with the actual mechanics of how change is achieved. By developing yourself with the right approach and tools to “make change”, you’ll open a doorway to what you want and feel effective in what you do.


Get a True Sense of What Needs to Change

The ‘tyranny of the imminent’ as one friend put it — There are countless things vying for your attention as an entrepreneur and they’ll run your day, week, and month if you let them, siphoning time until you’re at the year’s end and in a no-different spot from where you started.

To stop the carousel you have to step off, get sense of where you actually stand, and re-orient to where you’re trying to truly go.

To accomplish this, pull aside into a reflective spot, grab a calming drink, and use these tools to diagnose and “brain dump” possible things that need change:

  • Four Activities Scorecard™: An extension of our Four Activities blog post, our scorecard walks you through the Marketing, Operations, Strategy/Innovation, and Finance/Admin centers of your business to identify the next steps needed in each.
  • Pain Points: This one will usually be immediately obvious to you: Where are you currently experiencing frustration and friction in your business? Writing each down is the first step to transforming them.
  • Opportunities: This one may also be immediately clear to you: Usually there’s opportunities with particular customers, markets, innovations, allies, or others staring you in the face right now that you need to create space to avail of.
  • Your 3- to 10-Year Vision: Although it gets too easily tamped down in the day-to-day, there’s usually a picture inside you of the future you’d like to inhabit. Write down what the future looks like as clearly as possible along with the main stepping stones that are needed to arrive at it.


Evaluate Which Change Needs to Happen Now

Now you’ve got a solid list drawn from a multi-angle look at where you stand and where you’re headed. The reality: You won’t be able to do all of them now. If you try to, you’re setting yourself up for half-completions (if that), burnout, and feelings of failure.

The better question: Which two to four make the most sense to tackle over the next 90 days? This step is often where entrepreneurs get mired: they want to do everything and haven’t built the skill to evaluate their plethora of ideas and choose which to pursue now.

Here are filter concepts you can apply as you look at the list of possible changes you identified above:

  • Activation Energy: The concept of “activation energy” comes from chemistry and describes the amount of energy needed to catalyze a reaction among particles which moves them to a lower energy state. It’s application here? — Everything on your list will require energy of you: The question is whether the change achieved is justified by the effort it’s going to take. Too often one of two things happens: (a) entrepreneurs fail to accurately account for the effort something will take, or (b) the change sounds cool in the moment but really isn’t going to provide enough benefit. Cross out those on your list that don’t pass the “activation energy” filter.
  • Compound Benefits: Some changes are one-and-done and that was that. Others will create new abilities or capacity that’s going to benefit next quarter, and the one after that, and on, creating compounded rewards over many years. Mark those changes on your list that provide “compound benefits” with “CB”.
  • Unique Ability: I borrow this concept from Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach — The gist here is that your organization has (or should have) something which makes it stand out from others: it’s Unique Ability. You want to put effort into making those changes that highlight and extend your Unique Ability, rather than those that simply do whatever everyone else is doing. Put a star next to those items on your list that feature your company’s Unique Ability.

After running your list through the above concepts, you’re ready to make the trade-off decision required if you’re going to be effective: Which two to four changes are the most important to put your and your team’s energy into this coming quarter? Remember, it’s not a question of good or bad, it’s a question of what trade-offs to make — this is perhaps the hardest step.


Put Yourself in the Right Mindset

Okay, you’ve got your list of only two to four changes to make. The next thing to do is get your brain primed with the right mindsets — You might think of this as “stretching” before exercising: without the right mindsets your efforts will either fail or at least be severely hamstrung.

  • Mindset 1: Change takes time — However long you think it’s going to take to finish something, add at least another 50%, maybe 100%. Entrepreneurs are notorious for underestimating time frames combined with an anxiousness for seeing completion — You’ll need to practice being real with yourself and tempering your expectations.
  • Mindset 2: Change is painful — There are no two ways about this: Whatever change you are pursuing will require the experience of pain. If you don’t want pain, you’ll have to remain where you are (which ironically eventually becomes painful too).
  • Mindset 3: The path will only become clearer as you walk it — We often call this the “intellectual journey” of change, and the gist is that while you should always have an idea of the end goal, every change begins in a creative fog that becomes progressively clearer only as you move along the path.
  • Mindset 4: You will reach a trough of disillusionment — We often call this the “emotional journey” of change, and the gist is that there’s always a point in the transformation where you’ll feel like it’s not going to work: This is an inflection point you either pass through or abandon.
  • Mindset 5: Aim for 80% — I borrow this concept again from Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach and the gist is that if you aim for 80%, it gives you permission to get something done even if it’s not perfect. And once that’s done, you can tackle the next 80% of the remaining 20% (a much smaller piece) and so on — after a only a few iterations you’ve got yourself a fully actualized change.

Never underestimate the critical need to have your mind in the right place when approaching any change.


Follow a Simple, Proven Method to Get Change Done

Note how many steps of change occur before taking action — The reason is because pointing yourself in the right direction with the right frame of mind is more than half the battle. Now it’s time to make the change happen.

To do that, here’s a proven series of steps that you can apply regardless of the type of change you’re trying to accomplish:

  • Step 0: Having a central place to store the checklists, assignments, resources, and more will make a big difference in how easy or hard the change occurs. Using your internal project management tool (we use Accelo), something like a Trello Kanban board, or a OneNote digital notebook part of your Microsoft 365 subscription, or even a paper-and-pencil Field Notes notebook — whichever it is, make sure you have a system.
  • Step 1: Clearly define the end goal. What has to be true for the change to be considered successful? What does the end result look like? Part of the description could include, “Reduce time spent processing customer payments in half.” Failing to write these out up front and share with others is going to result in lost time and sometimes even arriving at an altogether wrong destination.
  • Step 2: Break down into properly formulated stepping stones. Loosey-goosey to-dos don’t work: Instead ‘who does what by when’, such as “Team member A evaluates 3 CRM alternatives against our defined needs/wants list and provides comparison table with recommendation by June 30.”
  • Step 3: Protect the margin required to accomplish the change. If other things are allowed to crowd out the time needed to make the change, it won’t happen. So timeblock your own calendar, ensure involved team members have the needed breathing room, and vigilantly guard the change effort throughout its lifecycle.
  • Step 4: Be accountable and adaptable. Have check-in points to assess progress. Make changes to the plan when needed (as long as Step 1 is still achieved). Having an established rhythm will keep the momentum and see you through.
  • Step 5: Celebrate the win. Once you get to the end, don’t forget to stop and celebrate. Too often we breeze by and are off to the next thing, but by properly celebrating this win now we reap the emotional reward and create the environment for the next success.


Change is About Facing Our Fears

It’s not often spoken about, but underneath it all change is about facing our fears (starting with the fear of failure). This why entrepreneurism takes courage. But by intentionally following the above approach over and over for each change you make, you can move the ability to change from subconscious mystery to a honed skill which creates satisfaction in what you do and enables the results you want to achieve.

The ElementsCPA Design Team accompanies entrepreneurs along the transformations of their journey to design their business and finances towards what truly matters to them. If you think we could be a help to you just reach out to schedule your personal Coffee Conversation, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to benefit from the insight we share next month.