Change Fatigue

Change (chanj) v. To cause to be different; transform.
Fatigue (fa-teg’) n. Physical or mental weariness due to exertion.

The following unscientific numbers from our own observations of client behavior over the last few years portray an interesting perspective on change and change fatigue:

Percent of Organizational Leaders Declaring Significant Change Fatigue:

  • Executive Level Leaders 35%
  • Senior Leadership / Managers 60%
  • Mid Level Managers 75%
  • Front Line Managers 90%

Assume we’re off by a few percentage points and you still get the picture. The crisis of not changing that confronted so many business, and government enterprises just a few years ago hasn’t passed. Leading ongoing transformation, what’s now called adapting to the “new normal” remains and many seem to be struggling to address it.

The “quality of work-life” press is replete with statistics, horror stories, and growing mental anguish at work and a horrifying amount of depression facing organizational associates at all levels. And these trends were accelerating prior to 9/11! The economic downturn and massive layoffs of the last 36 months haven’t helped reduce the stress.

Now back to our statistics. Why does it seem the challenge of change fatigue hits highest at the lowest levels of the organization? Simple answer: perceived power over change and the direction of change. At the executive and senior leadership levels, where most of the transformational decisions evolve, the level of control, power and vision is very different from mid-to-lower organizational levels. Of all the research conclusions regarding sources of stress, “lacking control over one’s life choices” remains in the top three. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the pace of change, the pressure for 24/7 accountability, and the uncertainty of one’s future would all combine to cause weariness amongst even the strongest of us. Combine that with the horrible mistakes organizations make when planning and rolling out change initiatives and you have the perfect formula for creating “change fatigue!”

If only we at Signature Resources had the magic elixer for restoring vibrancy and mental energy at work. I would be hammering out the great American novel and not plying the unending fields of organizational challenges facing our clients. While we all know simple solutions don’t exist and most of us are weary of yet another “consultant with a formula” absurdity, we do ask you to consider several elements of leadership that can have a direct Impact on managing (possibly reducing?) change fatigue.

Answer Four Key Questions for Your Team:

Why?

People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. Most of us accomplish change in our personal lives with dispatch when we see a valuable need to do so. And so it is with organizational change. Most people will give you the energy for change when they see a valuable reason to do so. The leader who keeps people externally aware, talks about changing business conditions and constituent expectations, and offers a cogent view of a desired future leads people to see why change must occur. Without “selling” this aspect of transformation we shouldn’t expect anyone to follow.

Where?

Our children don’t like to go on long surprise trips where the destination is a secret. Organizational associates are no different. If I know we need to be something different to maintain organizational success then I also want to know that the leadership is aware of what the destination looks like. Not a picture of a fully completed domicile down to the interior decor but at least a rough architecture. Organizational associates clear on the “why” and the “where” are more resilient when we encounter surprises along the way. They are more inventive in overcoming barriers and creating pathways we might not have foreseen. They are more determined because they have perspective on the change that makes them a player not a victim.

How?

A roadmap gives confidence and empowers those on the journey to know what to do when a detour is called for. A roadmap also proclaims the milestones and support points along the way that give us a sense of accomplishment and reduce our fear of whether we will be supported along the way. More people fear change than resist it. The more uncertain the path and the support the more doubt you may expect. The greater the doubt the less discretionary effort associates will give. The less discretionary effort the more organization’s end up “pushing’ people rather than leading them. Pushing is fatiguing for all involved.

My role?

Help people understand their exact role in change. When will they receive new training? How can they best advise management as we make the journey? How candidly can they speak up? Why is their personal flexibility with the change important to our continued value for customers or taxpayers. Help people see themselves in the change, vent their fears, and know they are important contributors not simply mechanistic cogs being realigned.

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