Navigating Transition for Small Business Owners

We all know change is scary and that most of us resist it at the best of times. There are many theories (and consultants) out there to help leaders manage the transformation process within their business. But what if we were to take things down a notch and talk more about transition rather than transformation. The very nature of transforming signals a complete overhaul and significant change in the business, whereas most micro and small business owners I work with encounter a period of transition in one or a few areas affecting the business. Whilst the transition may feel overwhelming for the person going through it, in the scheme of things it usually ends up being more of a period of temporary adjustment with gradual implications for changing the business over time.

For those business owners who feel they have been thrusted into a changing dynamic within their organisation, I believe the first step is to acknowledge that going through a transition period in your business is normal and is cyclical. This makes sense, just like economic cycles, business cycles, weather seasons and the list goes on, there is a circularity at play here, almost like a birth and rebirth phenomenon. Bruce Tuckman came up with the developmental sequence that occurs in small teams: forming, storming, norming and performing. There is the inevitable breaking up of the initial group at some point and then the cycle starts again.

As a business consultant helping clients work through a transition process, whether it involves building a new team, reshuffling existing positions or the business owner looking to change direction completely, normalising the idea that businesses are constantly evolving can be a real challenge for many. It often comes across from a negative viewpoint with an implied struggle ahead and pain to endure. Whilst I’m certainly not saying this will be easy, it almost always presents an opportunity for reflection and to reframe the change process as a force for good and to build something better for the future. It doesn’t have to be so heavy, it can also be a period of great enlightenment.

As always (and in typical consultant terms!), it is good to put some structure and frameworks in place to maximise the opportunity for setting up the transition for success and minimise the pain as much as possible. Here are five things to consider along the journey:

Exit strategy

Going through a transition can be overwhelming and it can feel like everything is urgent with no time to step away from the operational chaos and really work on the business. The irony here is that this may be the perfect time to review your current organisational structure and more importantly think about what you want that structure to look like in the medium to long term. This process should help you explore various potential exit strategies now rather than later as well as shift your focus to a positive future outlook emphasising on building organisational value.

Organisational culture

What I usually find is that when businesses are going through a transition, organisational culture often takes a back seat. Establishing clear values may have been done some time ago (or not at all) and so there is no reference to what the accepted norms are within the business. In my view, all businesses (whether in transition or not) should always be reviewing their purpose, vision and take a hard look at whether they are living their core values at least every few years or so. However, during a transition period and especially when the team dynamics change somewhat, this is the perfect opportunity to align the team early on.


We all know that developing systems in a business helps create internal efficiencies and enhances the customer experience. Prior to a transition period, it is often the case that businesses become complacent in how they do things and so an emphasis on process improvements and the like do not make it to the top of the priority list. Again, whether its new team members or a change in business direction, it can be an exciting time to get on the front foot and build practical and simple systems across core business functions such as HR, sales, operations and finance. The likelihood of team participation and engagement is highest during the transition phase.


I touched on this at a very high level with organisational structure and exit plans, however reassessing your strategic goals over the short term is also very important to maintain focus and build good momentum during the early phase of the transition. Being clear and intentional about key objectives and KPI’s as well as implementing tactical action plans will go along way in avoiding the noise and distractions that plague businesses going through this challenging time of change.


In this environment, businesses must continuously evolve as new technology changes the landscape and customers become more sophisticated, while competitors find new ways to differentiate their value proposition and maintain relevancy. For some, going through a transition process can sometimes feel as if they are losing ground in this never-ending race of trying to demonstrate they are the go-to expert in their area of expertise. While this may be an exaggeration, it can cause business owners to neglect the opportunity to step back and reflect on their own branding and market positioning. With a transition often bringing new or different internal capabilities to the business, the opportunity to further differentiate and provide an even greater customer experience is frequently overlooked.

In my view, I feel it is important to add another layer to all of this by suggesting that business owners going through a transition period should also take the opportunity to further develop their own leadership capabilities during this time of change as this will underpin how well they end up executing on all the above.

Navigating Transition for Small Business Owners
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