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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Change fatigue is bulls**t

Workers are tired of ongoing organisational change, but don’t blame failed initiatives on change fatigue, say Darren Levy and Neil McGregor. Resourcing change well and encouraging culture and leadership behaviours to make it stick will change the lexicon to change “fitness”.

The term “change fatigue” has received far too much airtime and focus in recent times. The Collins dictionary defines fatigue by saying: “people are suffering from a particular kind of fatigue when they have been doing something for a long time and feel they can no longer continue to do it.”

The unfortunate truth is that many change initiatives fail. Too often, it seems, our people are enduring ongoing organisational changes that do not lead to any noticeable positive impact for customers/stakeholders or staff.

This is exactly why change fatigue has emerged as an excuse for not making change in organisations. But while workers are indeed sick and tired of the ineffective change initiatives so often implemented in their workplaces, to describe their response as change fatigue is, we believe, bulls**t!

People are motivated by seeing how their efforts make a difference, doing something meaningful and learning something new. Now if you think of change in an organisational context, it can definitely provide opportunities to deliver those motivating factors.

Unfortunately, what actually happens is far from that:

We tend to not be able to connect with the purpose of the change. We don’t understand why it is needed.
We are not included in the process and the change is done to us.
Timelines are not fairly decided or clearly communicated.
We are not provided the resource, time or space to focus on the change—it is expected that it will be done on top of business as usual (BAU).
Before we have even truly finished the current change initiative, priorities shift and we are already onto the next change.
We don’t celebrate the successes or learn from the failures.

It is understandable to then say we are fatigued or unable to continue operating in an environment where change is rolled out so ineffectively.

We should instead be aiming for the lexicon to shift and for our people to be talking not of “change fatigue” but of “change fitness”.


Take much more time to initiate and understand the need for change. Gain the perceptions of those at the coalface and who interact with your customers every day. What change do they need and what impact will it have on them doing their jobs better? Additionally, too much change is initiated by a need for us to improve a system or process, but has little effect on our customers. Get an external perspective. What changes will make life better for our customer from their perspective—not what we think customers need.
Carefully map the stakeholders and the level of impact the change will have on them. The aim is to understand to what degree people are “ready, willing and able”. Ready people have the time and space for the change, willing are motivated to support the change, and able people have the skill sets the change requires. You need people to be all three—and hint—it’s the “ready” part that can be the biggest barrier. While the mapping will also identify your champions, those who are largely ambivalent, and those who will resist, don’t write off resisters. They’ll be resistant for a reason—impact on them personally or the lack of opportunity to be involved are often the keys. How can you help them overcome that resistance?
Build a highly diverse change leadership team. Look for the right mix of seniority, representation across the organisation, mana, influence and change capability. While some also suggest you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, you don’t want to derail your project by giving someone formal authority from inside the change team to oppose your project. Don’t put resistors on your lead team in the hope they will come around, but ensure they have input in the planning phase. Ensure the project has an active sponsor—someone who can clear political hurdles that may arise is key, so make sure you have someone senior.
Build a compelling vision, purpose and strategy for the intended change. Too often change projects do not fully qualify their value creation and value capture. Be clear—who will benefit from this change and how will that capture value for the organisation? People are motivated by a higher-level purpose—so give them one!
Ensure timely and clear communication that is an appropriate mix of face-to-face (1: many and 1:1) happens as early as possible to help share the why for change. Focus on communicating what does this mean for you, your team and our organisation. Folks also like to know why from the big boss and what from their direct supervisor.
Provide as much certainty and clarity as you can and ensure you communicate frequently. As George Bernard Shaw says, “The greatest danger in communication is the illusion that is has been completed”.
When it comes time to implement the change ensure that there are opportunities to prototype and experiment to demonstrate proof-points and celebrate successes. Often change projects are undertaken with the belief you have the answer and change is just an implementation phase. But often the detailed workings of a strategic change are not set in concrete at all, or they were until someone realised they didn’t work. Experimentation and “failing” so you can learn and advance the project can be critical to change success. If there’s one oxymoron in a change process, it is having an inflexible change plan.
As we wrap the successful change initiative make space to review and reflect on the change. What did we set out to do? What did we end up doing? What are the opportunities to do it better next time? What lessons have been learned and what other change opportunities have been identified? Are our policies, structures and systems supporting the change? Where else could this change be implemented? What skills did we need but did not have? There are a hundred questions you could ask to derive value from the experience, but often we are looking to move on quickly to our next assignment and key learnings from the project are lost—only to be learned again with an element of unnecessary pain!
Add design thinking and change management to your toolkit. Become a certified facilitator of ExperienceChange and ExperienceInnovation with Human Synergistics. You will learn the best practices of facilitating change and build your competitive edge.

Change done well is managed messiness! To make it less messy, the steps above help to ensure the “what” of change is more seamlessly delivered. Leaders also need to support and set expectations on the collective and individual mindsets that will be required.

  • • 
    Human-centered: Involve others, be open and be positive.
  • • 
    Learning orientation: Listen carefully, do to learn, and lean in to ambiguity.
  • • 
    Meaningful motion: Focus sharply, be intentional and be patient.

Change fatigue is bulls**t and continuing to suck the energy and will out of our people is unacceptable. Use a change model, resource the change well (time and money) and encourage the culture and leadership behaviours that will enable the change to stick. Let’s hear the words “change fitness” ring out in our organisations!

DARREN LEVY (left) and NEIL MCGREGOR (right) are leadership and culture consultants at Human Synergistics New Zealand.

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