In the age of disruption and the age of the customer, change is a necessary activity for any organisation.
If your business is striving to offer relevant, competitive, customer-centred services, change initiatives and projects must become a part of your organisational life. But if you want these changes to succeed, you need to ensure your team are on board with them.
Organisational change requires your team members to be dynamic and adaptable. Thankfully, most people – old and young – are just that.
Team members who are responsive to change and are enthusiastic early adopters demonstrate what we call “change resilience”.
It is also likely that you have other team members who are less responsive to change initiatives, and instead demonstrate signs of “change resistance”.
It is quite normal to have members of your team at different stages across this spectrum; some who are highly resilient, some who are highly resistant, and most somewhere in between these two points.
In today’s highly dynamic and fast-moving world however, even the most resilient team members become wearied by “change fatigue”.
What is Change Fatigue?
Change fatigue is the result of too much or poorly managed change. It can occur when there are too many changes happening at once, or if there is not enough time between change initiatives, or where the impacts and outcomes of a change initiative is not communicated well enough to enable the change to be well understood and adopted.
Change fatigue can look a lot like change resistance. It may manifest as a sense of apathy, passive resistance, or even outward resistance to organisational change.
It will often impact your change resilient team members the most – as they work hard to understand and advocate for the change and to act as change agents. Because of this, it is a key cause of failed organisational changes.
The good news is that change fatigue is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Instead, you can manage change fatique in your business and support your change fatigued team members to help them become change resilient again. You just need to know how to recognise the signs of change fatigue – and what to do about them.
Three key signs of change fatigue are resistance, poor performance, and confusion. If you can identify these signs, you’ll be well on your way to combating change fatigue.
Sign #1 – Change Resistance
Change resistance can manifest in several different ways.
You see it in the team members who insist that every change is a bad idea – even before they know what the change will look like. It’s the people who mutter or otherwise insist that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It’s the shrug of the shoulders and the observation that “everything already works fine the way it is”.
More overt displays of change resistance include a blatant refusal to implement changes, or active lobbying and canvasing against a change.
For every comment you hear or action you see that expresses or demonstrates change resistance, chances are there are several more change resistors behind the scenes. This army of nay-sayers can sabotage the success of any change initiative. And their generals – the more vocal ones – are some of the most influential.
The key signal that this resistance is the result of change fatigue is when it is evident in team members who are usually early adopters and enthusiastic supporters of change.
The solution to this problem is to engage your more vocal change resistors and bring them “on board”. Get them involved in identifying problems and solutions, invite them to workshops, educate them, provide them with resources to implement changes, and otherwise convert them to the merits of a proposed change. If you can do this, you’ll have a powerful ally and proponent, and they can become some of your greatest influencers for change success.
Sign #2 – Poor Performance
Poor performance can be another indicator of change fatigue.
High sick leave, high turnover, long break times, poor productivity, or a decline in quality outcomes are all examples of poor performance. If these symptoms appear as you’re implementing change in your organisation, you can put your money on the fact that your team are struggling with the change. They just might not be telling you about it.
When change fatigue manifests in poor performance, it’s often because your team hasn’t been effectively engaged in the change process. They may feel that they weren’t consulted, they may not fully understand the “why” behind the change, or they may not have the tools or skills for operating in the new environment.
To avoid this problem in the first place, or to combat it as it appears, it’s important to ensure that you invest time and money on supporting the people who are affected by change, and not just on the systems, processes, and technical elements of that change. It’s these frontline people who will be the make or break for change success, so educate, engage, and support them.
It should also be noted that if the first indicator of change fatigue you see is poor performance, chances are you’re either disconnected from the “ground zero” of your organisation, or you’re being protected from the news by your leaders. Either way, this needs to change. Sit down with your frontline staff, and discover what’s going on for yourself. This alone will help them to feel more supported and valued during times of change.
Sign #3 – Confusion
Sometimes, change fatigue manifests itself in the form of confusion.
This confusion could exist because your team members don’t understand the change, or because you don’t understand it. After all, if you don’t understand the change, how can you explain it to your people?
Albert Einstein is credited with observing “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”, and this certainly applies to organisational change. So the first step in combating confusion is to educate yourself on any changes that are occurring in your organisation. Make sure that you understand them inside out.
Once you know and understand the changes, there’s one step left: communicate, communicate, communicate!
I often advise my clients and their teams to communicate until you’re blue in the face… then just keep going. You need to share the ‘why’, the ‘how’, the ‘what’, and the vision for the post-change future with your team members. To ensure everyone can understand and get on board, you should do this in several forms – verbal, written, pictorial, scenario-based. You should also make the conversation two-way, and you need to communicate more than once. After all, people process at different speeds, and they’ll have questions as they go along. These questions are valuable for a number of reasons. In addition to helping your team members feel valued and listened to, they’ll help your team to understand the changes, and they may even help you identify something you haven’t thought of yet.
A Few More Thoughts on Change Fatigue
Creating a change resilient culture within your organisation won’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, investment, and a strong focus on culture and people. You may also need dedicated resources to combat change fatigue and promote the change.
However, while developing change resilience isn’t easy, it’s most certainly worth it. Because to a great degree, your team’s change resilience will determine the success of your changes. And you don’t want to go wasting money, time, and other resources on changes that won’t succeed.
Beat Change Fatigue
So there you have it – three signs of change fatigue, and how you can avoid or counter them when they appear in your organisation. Armed with this information, you should be well on your way to creating and nurturing a change resilient culture in your organisation.