Change fatigue. It’s a topic that really won’t go away, no matter how well we plan, co-create deliver, lead or support change. It’s an interesting topic – one that Lena and I used to be miles apart on and have now come to meet in the middle as you can see in this older Brain Pickers clip
Once upon a time, Lena believed change fatigue is not a ‘real thing’, in that we create change fatigue with a way of thinking, and we prime people to be fatigued through the use of our language. Lena is quite correct – the language we use is very important and if we chose to focus on fatigue, we lose a lot of energy in the organisation. We can deliberately choose to create more positive energy states with a more careful choice of words and activities.
I was more of the opinion that change fatigue is an outcome that occurs through the careless planning and scheduling of change. When the organisation is not sufficiently resourced for change (whether by enough practitioners to help, supportive design of change, and competing demands) and you put too much change into the system, people wear out and become resistant to hearing any future change messages.
Where we have landed.
Change fatigue is both subjective, perception based and objective! It’s complex!
Brain friendly change design mitigates a lot of the risk of people feeling fatigued by change.
Thoughtful use of language, brain friendly change communication and change designed with empathy leads to a much more resilient workforce. And example of this from a tactical perspective is to ‘bucket your change’. Rather than try and introduce 32 different changes to the workforce, see if you can chunk those 32 messages into 4 basic change communication themes. This means that whenever your workforce is receiving a message, their brain only has to sort it into four buckets, not 32.
We still need to be mindful about how much change are we trying to put into the system at a particular time and to what end. There is a diminishing return to how much you load up an organization with change.
There needs to be a level of maturity in the leadership team to have a conversation about change capacity, and of course courage to say it’s time to push back on some change or re-prioritise. conversation and go, actually, we’ve tipped over now for all the change we’re trying to introduce, we’re getting detrimental effects because there is too much change. So, just making people more resilient, looking at how we prompt people for change, that stuff does not ameliorate the lived experience of too much change.
With experience, change practitioners get good at recognizing what types of change must be prioritised (e.g. legislative change, OHS safety measures, changes that have high impact to people or profits). And here is where the influencing capability of a change practitioner matters – most leaders think that their number one priority is the organisations number one priority. A really effective change partner will bring the full leadership team together to determine what are the change leadership principles that will permit an effective scheduling and prioritization of change.
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