Let’s start with this: change management is never easy, and anyone who says otherwise is either a dedicated optimist, or an inexperienced idealist.
That’s not to suggest that change management is optional; because that’s not true, either. In fact, most change management projects are essential: it’s rarely a question of whether or why; it’s usually a matter of when and how. Yet ironically, it’s within this compulsory nature of change management that arguably lays its most looming threat: change fatigue.
Change fatigue is a widespread, chronic condition that inflicts countless employees with a deep-seated aversion to change management that ranges from dread-filled apathy on one of the spectrum, to burning antagonism on the other. On the surface – and in the eyes of some managers and leaders – this resistance is nothing more than an unavoidable, instinctual expression of the “fear of change” that business pundits, psychologists and self-help gurus have talked about for decades. Except…it isn’t.
Most employees who suffer from change fatigue aren’t afraid of change; at least no more than their managers and leaders. Rather, employees are exhausted from what they view as an endless series of less-than-successful (read: failed, painful, nightmarish, ridiculous, etc.) attempts to make change happen. As noted by communication expert and author Nick Morgan in Harvard Business Review: “With all the transformation efforts going on these days, the workplace seems to have transmogrified into one continual change initiative.”
Simply put: employees aren’t built to be – and don’t deserve to be – cogs in the perpetual change machine; and furthermore, organizations aren’t equipped to foster endless change. Indeed, just as obsessively clinging to stability and the status quo are destructive, organizations can’t afford to make change management the permanent norm in their environments. Otherwise, instead of controlling change management, an organization becomes controlled by change management – and change fatigue, together with its list of scary consequences (project failure, employee burnout, talent turnover, etc.), is inevitable and destructive.
That’s the bad news. Actually, who are we kidding? That’s the kind of news that keeps traumatized employees roaming job sites so they can escape ASAP, and keeps managers and leaders awake at night wondering why they didn’t choose a less stressful career path, like oil rig firefighter, air traffic controller, or the person who makes sure bullet proof vests really work.
However, the good news is that overcoming change fatigue – or better yet, preventing this threat from laying down roots – is possible and practical. Here are 5 tips to keep help make change management an initiative, rather than an incendiary:
1. Accept that change is behavoral, not just technical.
Change management isn’t just about implementing new systems, adopting new policies, adding new products or services, and so on. It’s also inherently about changing behavior, which means that affected employees have to be in the loop and aware of why things are changing in the first place. No, all of them may not agree with the shift. But yes, they need and, frankly, deserve to know what’s going on and why. Strangely, some organizations do a much better job of telling their customers why things are changing, than they do their own employees!
2. Create “change agents” on every team.
Just as all politics is local, all change management is team-based – because, ultimately, teams get work done and make change happen…or not happen. Identifying a change agent on each team lets managers and leaders establish a communication channel to roll-out updates and get feedback. Remember: when change fatigue is a reality or a possibility, no news is never good news.
3. Build and share a high-level plan.
Most employees don’t need or want access a comprehensive change management project plan, complete with a maze of dependencies, deliverables, notes, and so on. They have their own work to do and enough on their plate.
However, they should have access to a change management plan that is suitable for wider distribution (i.e. for those who aren’t directly involved in the change, but will be impacted by it). This plan version should include key dates, milestones, and other high-level information that provides insight into what’s been done, what’s happening now, and what’s coming down the pipeline. Even if most employees only glance at this information a few times a month, the fact that it exists and is available builds trust – and that goes a long way towards preventing or reducing change fatigue.
4. Be willing to change a change management project.
Some managers and leaders resist making necessary mid-stream adjustments to a change management project. This isn’t because they’re obstinate. It’s because they don’t want to undermine the initiative. In other words: they’ve invested so much “reputation capital” getting employee buy-in, that they’re afraid of the blow-back if they admit that some pretty big (or really big) things need to change.
Paradoxically, this attempt to cling to an approach or plan that no longer applies contributes to – rather than prevents – change fatigue. Employees can see with blatant clarity that things aren’t headed in the right direction, but they’re powerless to do anything or afraid to say anything. Leaders and managers who courageously do a gut check, make necessary adjustments, and share the details effectively and honestly, will find that instead of tarnishing their credibility they actually strengthen it.
5. Choose the right tools.
Spreadsheets, emails and other conventional workplace tools are fine for some things – but change management has never been one of them. These tools unleash chaos by scattering various pieces of the information puzzle across the environment. As a result, merely finding the right information – let alone making sense of it – is exhaustive, and change fatigue is once again inevitable.
The right tools are those that drive transparency, visibility, in-context communication and collaboration, and establish a centralized work management platform that puts everyone on the same page vs. hurls them to their silos and islands.
Clarizen’s award-winning solution is trusted by enterprise leaders and managers – and embraced by employees and end users – to manage, control and drive change management. It supports all of the principles described above, and turns change management from an ordeal that is dreadful and debilitating, to an event that is positive and progressive. Learn more by taking a product tour today.