How to deal with change fatigue – what you’re missing

How would you feel if your department/organisation was assigned to move and merge with another department across town? Then you moved, created new routines for the family, adjusted to new colleagues, new floor plans and workspaces, new reporting structures and expectations. Then two years later were told that it was a mistake and you had to move back again?

Yes, I’d be bummed too.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to adjust to change. Chip and Dan Heath in their book, Switch – How to change things when change is hard, cite that it’s actually the energy of self-discipline that gets drained when we undertake change, since we need self-discipline to learn new things. Self discipline is the energy of concerted effort and focus. And there is only a finite resource of that!

If we add any other personal changes to the mix – such as a new baby, new relationship, new divorce, then our self-discipline tank is depleted even further. There is nothing left in the self-discipline tank for lifestyle changes. Forget the diet – we’re eating cake!

Change fatigue is real and pervasive.

Conventional wisdom for change leaders still applies:

Change leaders still need to minimise the following:

  • Scale of change – how big it is
  • Rate of change – how fast it is
  • Frequency of change – how often it is
  • Diversity of change – how much change.

Change leaders also need to minimise threats:

  • Minimise uncertainty through frequent and direct communication about what is happening. Uncertainty is the most fundamental driver of fear; reassurance and communication reduces it.
  • Belonging and a sense of place helps us to feel safe; a focus on relationships, team support, clarification of roles will reinforce this social safety.
  • The desire to perform is a key human driver; change threatens the individual’s capacity to deliver results in the short term at least as they adjust to new circumstances. Reassurance about performance during change programs is critical.
  • Perceived unfairness can generate a sense of being a victim; explaining rationale for changes will help mitigate this.
  • Disagreements based on differing perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews can be the most intractable of issues during change. Encouraging open discussion can help elucidate concerns before they become outright conflict.

Conventional wisdom for individuals also still applies:

  • Look after ourselves.
  • Rest, eat well, exercise.
  • Focus on sphere of influence to maintain a sense of control.
  • Reframe the change in terms of opportunity and benefits.

So what’s missing?

Fundamentally we need to reframe where we place our expectations for certainty and security. In the past we have counted on the following for stability in our professional lives:

  1. Where we worked – physical aspects of our workplace
  2. How we worked – technology and focus of work
  3. Knowledge of our work – body of knowledge on which we base our expertise.

The world is no longer the same:

  • It’s complex not linear.
  • Change is exponential not sequential.
  • Workplaces are mobile not fixed.

We need to regain our sense of CERTAINTY from the following:

  • Our capacity to learn and grow. Our body of knowledge is ever evolving, not finite.
  • Our capacity to adapt. We will create workspaces that help us evolve, rather than just acclimatising to what’s there.
  • Our ability to connect. We will replace hierarchy with influence and responsibility.
  • Our ability to deliver. Performance will be not be to set criteria but to achieve a purposeful mission. We keep working on THAT until we get there.

Though our world is volatile and unpredictable in some ways, we’ve got everything we need to navigate it. It’s time we looked to ourselves, what’s within, instead of clinging to the ever moving feast of what’s around us. Certainty, the antidote to change fatigue, is an inside job first.

Leadership challenge: what are you doing to develop certainty from the inside out?

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