Since the spring of 2020, our lives have been changed, inside and out, and especially in the world of work. Change has taken a toll on all of us, and for leaders, this is an especially fraught time, as we navigate even more change. Returning to the office after yet another pandemic winter, the volatility of our teams, with high levels of turnover and change, it's no wonder that people are feeling burnt out and fatigued.
Change fatigue is a symptom we often see as change managers, when the project drags on, change is constant, and we are asking more and more of people. Other priorities start to creep in, we get tired of constantly having to think, do and operate differently, and become less responsive to the needs of the change we are implementing. For a long time, I would talk about change fatigue and try to explain it to leaders. Now that we’ve all experienced this rapid collective global change, we finally have something to point to and say:
“This is how change fatigue feels”
The experience we’ve had, and the global exhaustion we are now all feeling is an opportunity for empathy. We all finally understand on a personal level what change fatigue looks and feels like.
The unfortunate truth is that change continues. Our lives demand more of us, even as we are stuck in exhaustion. So how do we move ourselves and our teams through change fatigue?
Every project hits a point of change fatigue, and we all need practical ways to move through fatigue to fully implement the change we are leading. Typically hitting a point of change fatigue indicates an inflection point in the project, where a break or recalibration is needed before the final push for success.
I was recently speaking with a client and colleague about the nature of our work, and how most of the time, we get called in to help organizations who are struggling with a failed change. Many times, they’ve tried to implement the transformation themselves, and may not have had the right support. When change fails, organizations don’t always have the luxury of abandoning the initiative. If investments have been made, leaders will want to push through, despite having an unsuccessful project the first time. So what to do if you’re a change manager being called in to revitalize a failed change effort? Here is some practical advice
1. Engage, Engage, Engage.
First, make a plan and speak to as many people as you can who were part of the change. Gather their perspectives by asking three simple questions:
a. What happened?
b. Why do you think it happened?
c. Name one thing you would do differently next time
This helps you to gain multiple perspectives on why the change failed and what the root causes were. It is important in this step to gather as many opinions as you can and see where there is alignment. This will help you build insight into what went wrong, the reasons why, and what people think can be done differently.
2. Tell a story
From the insights you gather in the first phase, build a learning story about why the change failed, and what will be done next time to prevent failure. Create the narrative that links the past with the future, but highlights what has been learned in a positive way. Seek to make changes to strengthen the project to ensure that it has the support to be successful going forward. Revisit the benefits of the change and weave this into your narrative. Remind people why they wanted to do this in the first place! Make the story compelling and interesting, and with a focus on learning vs. failure.
3. Build Momentum
People want to associate with projects and initiatives that are successful! It is difficult after a change failure to get people to want to participate. Failure is frustrating! To get momentum back into your change, engage leadership and people in positions of power within the organization, the ones who are accountable for the realization of the benefits. Get them to help you make the project exciting again and overcome points of resistance that you may find. Increase the prominence of the project and people will be drawn back to participate and contribute.
Change failure is difficult situation to overcome, but with these three steps and a solid change plan, you’ll be back on track to successful change and transformation.
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