Another year brings more relentless change, pressure, impossible deadlines and stress.
Even when you can see the end in sight for one change, several more are likely bearing down on you. There’s no time to breath, let alone think and before you know it, you’re buried under a mountain of busy work.
SLOGGING IT OUT IN THE SALT MINES!
Change fatigue is an insidious curse that’s taken hold in most workplaces and there’s no quick fix.
Your people are intense, withdrawn and showing signs of burnout. Already weary from last year’s changes they know change is not going to slow down or get easier any time soon.
Meanwhile the project team has assigned responsibility for ‘change management’ to you. Understanding what drives change fatigue is the first step.
WE’RE HARD-WIRED FOR CERTAINTY
Change fatigue stems from prolonged, often unconscious resistance. As humans we strive to create order out of chaos and certainty where there is none. Order and certainty create safety as we run away from perceived danger and fear of the unknown.
With the goalposts constantly shifting, we dig our toes in and keep doing what we’ve always done in a bid to survive.
One of my clients told me yesterday how her management team is wedged between a rock and a hard place.
If they win one or more of the tenders they’re currently competing for, it will mean a significant change to what they do and how they work.
If they don’t win any of the new work, it will also mean major change – restructuring and unavoidable job losses. Either result means more change.
My client’s challenge is to help her managers become more receptive to working differently and that takes effort. After a year of already significant change (under a new CEO and Executive Team), their road ahead looks exhausting and stressful.
IGNORING CHANGE FATIGUE CAN BE FATAL!
Left unmanaged, change fatigue erodes morale and productivity as frustration, stress and absenteeism rise.
Your best people decide they can’t hack it and leave, further compounding the problem for those left behind.
Meanwhile, new demands and expectations keep coming at you. The pressure is on and before you know it, you’re left with a paralysed team curled up in the foetal position, stubbornly holding onto the shredded remains of what used to be.
Thankfully it doesn’t need to be like this!
CLEARING THE PATH TO RESILIENCE
As a change leader there are simple ways to help your team thrive through uncertainty by strengthening their change fitness and endurance.
It requires equal measures of perspective, patience and persistence but the effort is well worth it.
6 TOP CHANGE LEADERSHIP TIPS:
1. FIRST, LEAD YOURSELF
Develop your own healthy attitude to change. Your team feeds off whatever you give them through what you say, decide and do.
Swap limiting beliefs to ones that will help you authentically walk your talk and model a constructive, healthy and positive attitude to change.
2. TURN ON YOUR ‘PEOPLE RADAR’
Keep your eyes open for signs of change fatigue and address them quickly. Tempting as it is to run from meeting to meeting or stay glued to your computer all-day, you’re likely to miss the signs that someone in your team is struggling.
Go for an informal walk around the office every day. Check in and notice how everyone’s doing. If someone is struggling, take them out for coffee and find out what’s going on for them.
Taking time now to listen, show you care and address change fatigue, will save you time and angst further down the track.
3. CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT CHANGE
Nothing’s got meaning except the meaning you put on it.
While we may not be able to control the change, we can control the meaning we assign to it.
Show them BOTH sides of the coin
Grab a coin and ask your team to describe the Tails side – all the negatives they are experiencing. Listen and acknowledge their right to believe whatever they choose.
Next, flip the coin over to the Heads side. Ask them to describe what else the change could mean, if it is successful.
Identify useful, alternative ways to view the change and encourage your team to see what’s possible.
Once you’ve identified ‘both sides of the coin’, ask your team to decide what meaning they want to assign to the change.
4. TALK ABOUT IT OFTEN, OPENLY AND CONSTRUCTIVELY
Ignoring change fatigue (hoping it will go away), or being too ‘busy’ to discuss it, is a trap. In the same way we need to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired, regular discussions meet our need for information.
Listen carefully to what you’re team is saying; check for understanding and clarity. Regular discussions provide the opportunity to clear up any generalisations, misconceptions or untruths that have slipped in via the grapevine.
Encourage team ideas to make this change even better. This creates a sense of control.
5. FOCUS ON WHAT IS WITHIN YOUR CONTROL – LET GO OF THE REST
Like trying to eat an elephant in one bite, change can be overwhelming! To counter overwhelm:
- Learn from past changes and let go of any remnant ‘baggage’. As time passes, our perspective expands and the emotional intensity of angst ridden change lessens.
- Identify what you and your team can control or influence and pour your energy and focus into this.
- While you do need to prepare for what’s coming, there’s no point worrying about it. Worry doesn’t change anything – it just makes us feel bad!
- Chunk change into manageable stages, small outcomes, actions and tasks. Scope and structure create clarity, certainty and a sense of achievement as milestones are met.
- Accept that uncertainty and chaos are natural parts of change. As the sands keep shifting, learn how to ‘go with the flow’, adapt and build flexibility.
6. PACE YOURSELF – CHANGE IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
Building change fitness takes time. Any long-distance runner will tell you they build endurance over time by alternating regular training with rest periods between.
All change has intense periods and lulls where not much is happening. Rather than feeling frustrated waiting for change to ‘take off’, use the down times wisely.
Rest periods for your team could include time off, temporary secondment to a different role or sharing responsibilities in different ways to recharge their batteries.
Once we accept the constancy of change and see it as normal, we settle into a comfortable rhythm, regardless of its pace or nature.
If you or your team need help to manage the endless waves of change breaking over your organisation, contact me today.
In the meantime, take a deep breath, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride!
Caroline helps mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.