If you’re a SME, here’s why change starts from the bottom

If you’re a SME, here’s why change starts from the bottom


I remember the time my previous organisation was planning a work-plan meeting for the next financial year.

Curious, I asked,

Are we going to hire facilitators?
Oh we thought of it but realised there wasn’t the budget for that.

Ah, budget. Always a concern. I’m thankful the food budget wasn’t that much of a concern though (although this seems to be a Singapore thing. I remember going for a few strategic retreats in the U.K. where all that was provided was tea and coffee.)

If you’re a SME, here’s why change starts from the bottom

Having worked in smaller charities, I’ve been thinking of questions such as:

  • What are the difficulties SMEs and charities face in thinking about their organisational development (OD)?
  • How do you make the case for organisational development? Why is it even important?
  • How do you convince money to be spent on OD or process facilitators?

To understand more, I spoke to Janice and Prabu, the co-founders of Facilitators Network Singapore (FNS), who amongst many other things, are experts on process facilitation. FNS provides professional facilitation training and services for effective corporate retreats, strategic planning, group decision-making, board meetings, stakeholder focus group consultation and engagement.

Today, you may be in a SME, supporting their organisational development, or in a strategic planning role. Or you may be a process facilitator yourself, trying to look for more business opportunities.

Here’s how you can make OD matter to smaller organisations.

Why bother?

When you’re constantly faced with trying to survive, why would you think about developing your organisation? It seems like a waste of money to shell out a few thousands for something that seems a nice to have.

Why bother?

How do you convince small organisations to bother about OD (Organisation Development), if they are constantly fighting fires?

There are different views from both Janice and Prabu.
Janice believes in helping organisations that are ready.

Immediately, I ask, “How do you tell?”
Janice shares something that I’ve never thought of before.
“When they ask “What do you think?””

It’s true.

Telling people that they need to change something may not be that helpful. I remember how in my previous organisation, to agitate for change, I started sending out a series of emails BCC-ing (blind carbon copying – meaning those who receive don’t know who else received it) the entire organisation. These emails talked about our leadership transition, the challenge with getting the right talent onboard, retaining our talent, and developing our talent and our culture.

I thought this would spark the conversation for a greater focus on our development as a small organisation.

It didn’t.

My boss recognised that I was very interested in strategy and management. His advice? Focus more on doing my job. These strategic things were not my purview.

When they are ready, that’s when you start to facilitate the conversation, asking questions until they see the pain points, and helping them see the continued pain if this continues.

Prabu has slightly different thoughts. He shares about how there’s the ‘push from internal’… but also the ‘pull from external’. The push internally is great. It’s when management sees the need to develop the organisation.

But the pull externally can also come when you identify early adopters and publicise their experience. This is something that charity sector governors like the National Council of Social Services have done. They have publicised the success stories of charities that have taken on bite-sized projects to improve processes within their Agencies.

Let’s talk about the money.

The M word is a sensitive word. Especially when you are in a SME or a charity, anything that you want to spend money on needs a proposal that goes through your supervisor, then your boss, then your boss’ boss. You need three quotes. You need to present a well thought through case…

You get the idea.

Let’s talk about the money.

Money is hard to earn, and even harder to convince your SME to spend.

Janice, from her experience working in the public sector and with charities, observes,

It doesn’t mean they have no money.

Rather, it’s about focusing on value, rather than cost.

There’s a distinction there. Cost looks at what you are committing upfront for the OD service. It is a commitment that happens before the work is done. Value looks at what the OD work does after the initial commitment. It looks at the lasting benefits that are preserved and sustained, even after the initial commitment.

It’s not about the value one brings. It’s also about the value one leaves behind.

That’s why Janice’s insight about this issue of money is something that strikes me.

Buying things is easy.
But we are not coming to give the solution. We are coming here to build the solution.
There’s no immediate solution. Problems take time to build, and they also take time to solve.

For Janice, it’s not about going in with a solution. It’s about co-creating a solution. In one of her successful projects, she worked with the organisation on a project and they became so inspired that they decided to set up a dedicated internal resource to cope with future problems that arose using the methods learnt.

This ensures that solutions are sustainable, rather than once-off payments. This leverages limited resources, rather than requiring the organisation to constantly put aside money to pay for expensive consultants to come in.

I have to agree. As a board director of a charity in the U.K., our main funder was extremely displeased that we seemed to have so much money to shell out on external consultants!

Now, we were going back to ask for more money?!

How about no?

Our funder eventually cut our budget by 9%. We were forced to face the reality of having less money to work with. But somehow, we thrived. Despite having our budget cut by 9%, our student satisfaction rates rose from 80% to 95%. Why?

Because we started to source and build internal capability. Rather than paying external consultants to come and discuss our strategy, we hired staff that were developmentally ready to facilitate such work. We deliberately brought in board directors that were familiar with working with budgetary constraints, such as those from the National Health Service. We hired a CEO who was known for his abilities with developing smaller organisations.

We saw the change.

If you read this today and wonder how you might apply some of these principles, here are some takeaways for you.


Firstly, as change agents, we have to believe ourselves that small organisations can and will change for the better.

As Janice shared, SMEs have flatter organisational structures, and a matrix structure that makes it easier to facilitate organisational work that tends to span different functions.


I confess. I’ve walked into a small organisation and thought to myself,

This organisation will never make it because it’s small.
They don’t even know how to unmute themselves on Zoom…
how are we going to help them to update their technological skills?
The old people here are so resistant to change! Why don’t they just get it?

When you hear the complaints of the older staff, who have been there for years, you wonder if any change is ever going to be possible. Indeed, Janice pointed out that one of the difficulties in implementing change in smaller organisations is the silo mentality, where staff may think,

I just need to do my part.

But there’s also the fear of the loss of control. After all, process change threatens the very essence of what they have done for years… and it is painful to change. Especially when you’ve grown familiar with a certain way of doing things.

That’s why before even thinking about the change needed, it’s important to take a step back. To think about the people involved in the change.

For all the emphasis on process work, it’s also the focus on people work.

Can I share a story before we end? About how my stereotypes about resistance to change in smaller organisations was broken?

A final story about the people work of OD

I used to work with an older colleague that seemed to hate me. She would raise her voice at me, speak about my misbehaviours with other colleagues, and chase me for administrative work.

To improve the processes within our agency, we piloted a digital enhancements project. I thought little about how the older staff would take this onboard. We didn’t consult them about the changes. We simply went ahead, because it was technology, right? Any tech works better than no tech.

I knew they struggled. In fact, I knew they weren’t even using the changes we implemented.

When I eventually left, this colleague came to thank me for the chocolates I gave her.

She kept repeating,

If you see me outside next time, you need to call me!

I was tempted to dismiss it.

After all, I was never going to work with her again. Why bother catching her attention when I saw her outside?

But beneath her request, I saw the deeper need for recognition. To be seen. For me, for us, not to turn away when we see her.

I think that’s it. When I think about OD, I used to think it was a high and mighty thing to talk about these grand plans that we had.

Transform the organisation!
Make changes!

It’s easy to focus on what you are doing, and forget who you’re doing it for. It’s not only for the client or the owner of the change. Rather, it’s also for the person at the bottom of the organisation, who may end up implementing and feeling these changes much more.

If you take away one thing, I hope it’s this.

Designing better processes doesn’t start with the problem. It starts with the person. For any changes to be made, it’s about taking the time to filter the change through the lens of the person at the seeming bottom of the hierarchy. Because in any meaningful change, hierarchies are flipped.

The smallest in line, becomes the strongest in loosening the wheels of change.

By line

By line

Many Gen Zs struggle in their transitions from education to their early career. John works with organisations to build organisations where Gen Zs can thrive with purpose and passion. He writes and speaks at liveyoungandwell.com.

Do you long for sustainable change in your organisation and wonder how to do it? If you do, please check out our SPOT on FacilitationTM and Virtual Facilitation WorkshopTM on how you can learn the skills that others have found useful in helping them become better at facilitating change in their organisation. Please contact us at admin@fns.sg for more information.