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“Oh no…! Not again!”: Minimising change fatigue

7 May 2009

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    “Oh no…! Not again!”:  Minimising change fatigue
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Author: Dr. Marty Ferreira

Originally written for the Human Capital Review

[caption id="attachment_164" align="alignleft" width="240"] Captain Picard couldn't get used to seeing Data in a dress.[/caption] Change is an essential part in the life of growing organisations, particularly those operating in a competitive market. The main challenge is to be able to initiate and manage any change, large or small, extremely well- a task that is easier said than done.

Furthermore, managing the complex process of initiating any major or minor change requires a lot of sensitivity on the part of the management and executive teams, as change can have both positive and negative impacts on the work culture. While the aim of any new initiative is the welfare of the organisation and its people, any mismanagement in bringing about the change might adversely influence the working atmosphere.  Apart from being an unsettling influence on the current employees, a history of continuous change in an organisation may confuse a new employee, eliciting resistance and making the adjustment process particularly difficult.  Should these changes occur continuously over time, organisations are likely to face the additional challenge of their employees suffering from change fatigue. Change fatigue is experienced by most of us at some point in both our professional and personal lives. You can see the signs in other people too - despair, high rates of absenteeism, complaining, rumours doing the rounds, insecurity running rife, and employee morale taking a nosedive.  In addition, lowered organisational productivity is a reality.  Most likely management will also experience resistance to the prospect of yet another change.  And these are not only limited to macro-level changes. When it comes to change fatigue, all change is significant, no matter whether it is at a macro- or micro-level.  In fact very often the small persistent changes, like role-restructuring, are frequently met with anger, despair, and shock.   What is apparent when dealing with this worthy forerunner of change fatigue, is that no amount of preparation will ensure that change will be a smooth transition or that success will be guaranteed. Eric Beaudan (Making change last: How to get beyond change fatigue, 2006) highlights some aspects which we come to learn about change as we are in the throes of this tricky phenomenon:...

  •  All change runs into resistance - both overt and covert.
  •  Individuals who support change at the beginning may become neutral, passive, or active resisters over time.    People at all levels run out of enthusiasm and steam and one more change may be one more change too many.
  •  All change involves a shift of the organisation's power structure.  This is most likely to one of the greatest  causes of passive or open resistance in organisations.
  •  No amount of advance thinking, planning, and communication guarantees success - change as we think we  know it, is inherently unpredictable.

So how do we minimise change fatigue?  David Walker (Change fatigue, kissing frogs and eating elephants, 2007) offers some guidelines which may be implemented to minimise change fatigue in organisations:

  •  Ensure that you have a strategy and a coherent desired end-state. Make sure that you communicate it so that  everyone knows where they are going and can learn to deal with it, and participate! It is in everyone's best  interest that the change is a success.
  •  Have detailed operational plans and strategies that map into corporate level strategy. Make sure that the  managers responsible stick to agreed plans.
  •  Manage all change in one place - you should aim to get one view of all change across an organisation, and  manage it as a cohesive whole at a macro-level. If anyone wants to change their plans, make an announcement,  or accelerate/decelerate, there is then a means of governance and ensuring that the implications of any  adjustment are considered.
  •  Ensure that there is clarity of sponsorship - knowing that there is a senior sponsor (or the Board for significant  change programmes) overseeing what is happening helps calm nerves. But sponsorship must be earnest and  transparent, otherwise it will not help.
  •  Continue to communicate to all stakeholders throughout - once you have started the journey, keep coming  back and tell stakeholders what is going on, and ensuring that there is two-way communication, websites, and  announcement plans for example. This stops a lot of the worry, angst, gossip and wasted effort. If plans change,  then communicate to people as soon as possible. If new things need to happen, communicate these actions as  soon as possible. You need to ensure that all key relationships are managed explicitly - if relationships fail, then  the implementation of change is more likely to fail.

§         To ward off change fatigue, design change management plans in such a manner that there are 'islands of stability' - periods where nothing new happens, everyone has a rest and focuses on the job. This will pay dividends. Bear in mind that every change requires some driving force during the course of its life which might start off powerfully but which is likely to run out of initial steam Both those needing to drive and embrace change run out of their own steam and may get to a point where "enough is just enough"? §         Remember, in most organisations, an accountant is an accountant 99% of the time.  When management asks accountants to participate in a change initiative, unless it is function-specific they are likely to view it as a "distraction" from the "real job" of accounting.  Even if the accountant is told that "leading change" is part of his or her job, the fact that his or her regular duties never diminish and that the "change effort" means extra hours always make such initiatives feel like "extra" work.  Add change on top of change, and the feeling of "These change efforts are a waste of my productive time" can grow. While acknowledging that both organisational and personal change, if well implemented, may be an extremely valuable exercise, we still need to bear in mind that it is people who make or break a successful transition to change.  Therefore if you don't deal with the people aspects of change such as their buy-in and the possibility of change fatigue, there is the real risk that any change programme will fail. Author bio: Marty Ferreira's main areas of service provision are grounded in Jopie van Rooyen & partners' Test Publishing and Distribution where she presently heads up the psychometry advisory service, procurement and bureau departments as a Senior Manager and Associate. Included in the service rendering within and across these departments, is her involvement in general organisational consulting. Company bio: Jopie van Rooyen & Partners SA [JvR] and JvR Consulting Psychologists [JvR-C] JvR has been in operation in Sub Saharan Africa since 1993.  As the largest privately owned test distributor and publisher in this region we take pride in the quality and diversity of the assessments, accreditation training and research that we offer. JvR-C offers a wide range of evidence-based consulting solutions to clients, including psychometric assessment, strategy facilitation, change management, wellness, leadership and management development, and performance improvement.

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