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Change Fatigue: The Cure for the Ever Changing Organization
By Alex Andrews, CPHR
With the rate of technological growth, our era of information and the global economy, change is now the normal state of business. With all the transformation plans that companies face today, workplaces are constantly facing perpetual change initiatives. The exhaustion of change is lurking, intensified by the natural tendency to distrust the change imposed from above.
When this happens, individuals can start to feel inadequate to the challenge, the demon of doubt creeps in, insecurity and paralysis increase, and we see declining rates of productivity, improvement, and quality of life.
In the recent Alberta HR Trends Report, conducted by the Torch Agency, it stated that more than a quarter of respondents (27%) report their organizations are suffering from change fatigue and another 41% say they are suffering from moderate fatigue.
But why does this happen?
From an employee’s perspective, employers struggle with change for mainy reasons. First, and far too often, we see poor design. There are failures in the management of processes underlying work (e.g., performance management systems), we rely on IT to magically solve problems and vehemently avoid behavioral changes that should be implemented.
Second, management are horrible communicators. Change leaders must thoroughly explain initiatives, and allow employees to hear arguments for and against alternatives. They must openly discuss the fears of employees to normalize the change. Individuals want to know that their concerns are heard and shared with others and that leaders acknowledge them. In addition, they want to know what support their leader will lend to help them through the transition stage.
And therein lies the reason for such resistance to change initiatives. For employees, we can whittle resistance down to eight principles reasons. Here are those reasons, with possible solutions:
- Job security. It is not part of our nature to make changes that could be harmful to our current situation. In an organizational environment this means that certain employees can resist technological change if their jobs are to be eliminated or reduced. From their perspective, change is harmful to their role within the organization. Without a well-thought-out design and communication strategy for change, leaders will face increased resistance.
- What’s in it for me? There is a common saying in the business world that managers get what they reward. Employees are going to reject the change when they do not see what’s in it for them. When implementing a change process you have to ask yourself what is the benefit of the change for the rest of the employees? Without a reward there is no motivation to support long-term change. This means that the compensation system should be modified to complement the change management that is to be implemented and reinforce the right vital behaviours needed to effect the change.
- Fear of the unknown. The less the organization knows about change and its impact on people, the more fearful they become. Leading change requires that no surprises arise. The organization needs to be prepared for change. In the absence of fluent communication with leadership, rumors fill the space and sabotage any effort for change.
- Peer pressure. The organization's stakeholders will resist change to protect the interests of the group. Some employees may resist change to protect their peers. Managers can resist change to protect their teams. All stakeholders need to connect the change back to their own safety and benefit. Without a clear sense of what’s in it for me, they will resist change.
- Culture of mistrust. Important organizational changes do not occur in a climate of mistrust. Trust, involves having faith in the intentions and behavior of others. Mutual mistrust will condemn a change initiative. Build a culture of trust! Walk the talk and be transparent.
- Organizational politics. Some are resistant to change as a strategy to prove that the decision is wrong. They can also be resistant to show that the leader in charge of the change process is not fit for the task. They are looking forward to seeing the process fail.
- Fear of failure. Radical change in work may cause employees to doubt their ability to perform their tasks. The known is comfortable. Employees will resist these changes because they are worried and cannot adapt to new job requirements.
- Bad approach. Sometimes it is not what a leader does but how she or he does it and this generates resistance to change. Resistance can occur because the changes are introduced in an unresponsive or inopportune way.
The remedy to all of this is to simply reduce the number of initiatives. Easy, right? Well, it can be. Instead of focusing on large-scale transformational change, focus on timely improvements and, above all, discarding the notion that heroic leaders are needed to make sustained and significant changes. If organizations really depended on substantial change from the top down, few would survive. By contrast, most organizations succeed because of small change efforts that begin at the middle and lower levels and are later noticed by top management. If the change is initiated from the floor, and everyone has a role, and the outcome is easily defined and attainable, the success of the change initiative will improve drastically.
Reference: Alberta HR Trends Report – Fall 2017, Torch Agency for CPHR Alberta
Alex Andrews, CPHR is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.