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Change Ready or Change Fatigue

Debra Sunohara

Your organization has—though painful at first—completed a large-scale change initiative.

And now you are starting your next change project, right on the heels of the first one.

Taken together, it just might be too much change for your employees to absorb and implement. Following one change program with another often encourages employees to maintain a ‘bunker’ mentality, where they feel they just have to wait-out the current transition in the hope that all will go back to the status quo.  While a certain amount of skepticism may be understandable under the circumstances, such an attitude does not inspire the trust that leaders need to have in their employees.

Pace of Change

Often the biggest organization-wide challenge that has to be faced is dealing with the pace of change.  The fact that employees believe that many change-related deadlines are artificial suggests a lack of trust in the leadership.  One common theme which you may hear is that the organization needs to slow down, prioritize, insulate certain aspects of its ongoing operations, and define and implement the change elements on a more rigorous ‘managed project’ basis.

Almost everyone agrees that ‘letting-go’ can be difficult on an individual level, and organizationally this may not have been worked through yet.  As a result employees can get the impression (and/or fear) that more and more responsibility/workload is being added on without a compensating decrease in lower priority activities.

Of course, the problem is often that there is a lack of agreement on priorities among major stakeholders; there is no broader sense of what to let go in a business sense.  As a result, the organization doesn’t let go of anything—giving the appearance of adding on with a sense of urgency about everything.

If a number of employees were to be interviewed in your organization, a significant number of them would likely say that people are tired.  People have been in transition so long that they are burned out.  They need a signal that the crisis is over—and that the sense of constant urgency is not the ‘new normal’.

Organizational Structuring

The structuring and restructuring of roles and responsibilities to align the organization with the new strategy is a key element of transformation.  However, the iterative nature of this restructuring only adds to the sense of chaos.

Some managers may even say that they know what their responsibilities are ‘at this hour’ but by ‘tomorrow’ this could change. 

There may be a general feeling that the delegation of responsibilities is given and removed on an almost ad hoc basis. Employees may feel that the org charts don’t make sense because there has not been any real discussion of processes to support the new vision, and that org charts are designed around individuals with too much attention to political trade-offs. This appears to create organizational instability and uncertainty that has a ripple effect on the capacity of mid-level managers to maintain any single direction.

14 Change Readiness Questions

A survey consisting of 14 questions can provide you with an indication of your organization’s change readiness. This is not a ‘pass or fail’ test of transition readiness.  If the answer is ‘yes’ to fewer than 10 of these questions, the organization is likely to have a difficult time moving through a transition.  The results may be different—and likely less positive—when a deeper sample of the organization is surveyed compared to the opinions of only senior managers.

Yes or No:

  1. Is there a fairly widespread sense that the change is necessary?
  2. Is the change part of a widely understood strategy?
  3. Does the culture of your organization validate the idea of helping employees deal with the problems they encounter, or are they pretty much on their own?
  4. Do most people accept that the change is an effective response to the underlying problem?Newfie-280x186
  5. Does your organization tend to blame people if they make mistakes in a new situation?
  6. Are there people in your organization who have expertise in the handling of change and who could assist others who may need it?
  7. Do people know what it is time to let go of—and why?
  8. Does your organization provide people with adequate training for the new situations and roles that it thrusts them into?
  9. Has the change been explained to those who are going to be affected by it in as much detail as is currently possible?
  10. Has the proposed change polarized the workforce in any way that is going to make the transition more disruptive?
  11. Does your organization’s history work in its favour during times of transition?
  12. Is the level of trust in your organization’s leadership adequate?
  13. Has your organization set up some way to monitor the state of the change?
  14. Has a clear set of responsibilities been established for seeing that the human side of the change goes well?

Next Steps

Successful change leadership requires a high degree of self-awareness, individually and collectively.  This is only developed through engagement, dialogue and interaction.

If your organization does not score well on the change readiness survey there are some steps you can take to facilitate the transition process:

Establish a Change Management Working Group - represented by each branch of your organization.  Line responsibility for Change Management should not be delegated to the HR group.  As we have discussed before, the Change Management Working Group should include representatives from every level of the organization who are:

  • people who have their hearts in it,
  • people who will provide leadership,
  • people who will attack barriers,
  • people who will get others on board.

This group will be expected to:

  • establish a change implementation plan;
  • establish measurable success factors and service standards;
  • monitor progress against the plan;
  • evaluate performance against standards;
  • track issues and address them using a cohesive process; and,
  • identify and support opportunities for employee engagement.

Establish a Project Management Office to implement and maintain project management discipline, including scheduling, resource leveling and risk management for a clearly defined and phased organizational change initiative.  The Project Manager would sit as part of the Change Management Working Group.

Draft a Communications Strategy Framework—from a transition support perspective—with:

  • defined communication objectives;
  • timing/frequency of communications;
  • communications vehicles;
  • source of communications;
  • communication audiences and audience segmentation; and,
  • key employees issues to which communications must be sensitive.

And remember, it is impossible to over-communicate with your staff if you truly expect to create transformational change.

 

So what do you think?  Is your organization ready to move forward with the next planned change initiative?

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Kotter’s 8 Steps to Change: More Relevant than Ever
Build a Culture for Continuous Change


 

Download our new eBook:

Managing Change: A workbook for personal and organizational changeManaging change ebook cover-280x230 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

Debra,

This is an excellent overview of the challenges that virtually all organizations face today.  There’s a continuous need for hange in the modern work plan; not only that but the pace of change has been accellerating.  So the importance of building competencies broadly with all staff becomes a logical survival strategy. Employees who are constantly bombarded with another “urgent change initiative” which seems to just drop out of the ether do be become skeptical of organizational leaders capacity to manage. Continuous push for more effort not only leads to burn-out but can actually result in lowering the overall productivity of stall.

Your stress of the importance of imposing a ration process is a necessary antidote and a great management strategy. It also sets up an enviornment for employess to engage in innovating solutions that they own and are prepared to make work.

By Alcide on 2011/11/09

Alcide,

Thank you so much for your encouraging feedback. I don’t think that we can over emphasize the continual and growing need to manage change in organizations. I hope that this blog post does make managers stop and reflect on change readiness, change fatigue and what they can proactively put in place as a management strategy to help their employees successfully cope with change.

By Debra on 2011/11/11

Debra,

I am wondering if you have any insights on the percentage of companies that need to change and don’t embrace it? On the flip side, the number of change initiatives that failed from lack of support from key stakeholders?

By Kim on 2011/12/01

Kim,

Thank you for your questions.


I don’t have any precise statistics that directly respond to your two questions. That said, there are some studies that have produced some interesting results that may be of use to you.

In a 2009 survey of over 300 large European companies conducted by Cap Gemini Consulting, 82% of the companies considered change to be of vital importance to their businesses and launched at least two change initiatives every year.

You can definitely find many references to a 70% failure rate of major change initiatives that refers back to Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change. I can’t say how much of that estimated 70% failure rate you can attribute to lack of key stakeholder support but I would venture to guess much of it. People-related aspects of change initiatives often account for a larger percentage of project failures.

The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a survey of executives in 2009, and found that “the most frequently cited barrier to successful change management was found to be the difficult of winning over the hearts and minds of the employees involved in the change, closely followed by gaining local management buy-in and by cultural issues. Conversely, the main factors contributing to successful transformations were reported by respondents to be good leadership, planning, and communication.”

Similarly, McKinsey Global Survey 2008 reported that the success of change initiatives were closely associated with: setting clear and high change aspirations; involving the entire organization in the change effort; ensuring that the reasons for the transformation were communicated in positive terms; and a high level of involvement and visibility of organizational leaders.

By Debra on 2011/12/06

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on November 7, 2011
4 Comments

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Categories: change management, hr & talent management, management, organizational development