Each time you start talking to someone else in the organization about the latest change initiative, you’re met with an audible groan. You made the same sound inside your head when you were asked to take the initiative on. The voice inside your head was screaming, “No!” while you silently nodded yes and asked the probing questions about scope and impact that you know you’re supposed to ask.
The problem isn’t this change. The problem is any change. There’s only so much capacity that any person – or organization has – and it feels like you’re constantly beyond the limit and because of that continuously ineffective – but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can find ways to minimize change fatigue and get to a sustainable pace.
Maximum Sustainable Rate
Runners can sprint, covering a lot of ground in a short time. However, the sprint isn’t sustainable. You can’t stay at that speed forever as you burn up the resources you have. While there are times that it is desirable and even necessary to sprint, it is when it becomes expected as the normal pace that there are problems.
In organizations, we fail to see the difference between the maximum rate that we can safely maintain and a rate at which it’s only a matter of time before something breaks or the system collapses. Like a pressure vessel that fails, it’s impossible to predict when or where the failure will occur – and the results are often catastrophic. (See our previous Sustainable Pace post for more.)
Change capacity isn’t a fixed quantity that can be measured like money in the bank. Instead, it’s a set of capabilities that make it easier – or harder – to accomplish change. Without fundamental communications skills, your change initiatives are doomed. Communication strategy as well as tactical communications skills are essential for increasing change capacity – but they’re not the only part of the story. Learning how to motivate others through stories and making them the organizational hero plays a role in the capacity for change as well. We believe the following six keys are essential to developing your capacity for change and fighting change fatigue:
- Ability to Clearly Define the Change
- Project and Program Management
- Tools for Motivating Adoption
- Communication Strategy and Techniques
- Stakeholder Management
- Higher Order Organizational Change Capacities
Few organizations are effective at all these keys. Instead, they may have change capacity in one or two or three of the skills but struggle in other areas. Too often, the skills behind the keys are given a head nod or the occasional acknowledgement with too few people able to clearly articulate how your organization creates communications plans, or the framework for managing stakeholders.
There is a “quick” cheat, however, if you don’t believe that you’ve got the capacity to improve on any of these dimensions. You can instead work on increasing trust. By increasing trust, you reduce fear and friction to change initiatives. Trust is the magic lubricant that can dramatically improve change capacity and reduce change fatigue. The only problem is that trust is rarely built quickly. More frequently, it’s something that’s added to bit by bit over a long period of time, and it’s destroyed in an instant if a behavior doesn’t match what people expect from you.
Building trust is one of those advanced skills of organization change that looks on the surface to be a quick and easy fix but turns out to be quite difficult.
No matter what your current level of change fatigue is, you can improve it if you’re willing to work on change capacity – and trust.