With all the stories of widespread digital transformations in workplaces globally these days, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that change fatigue has taken hold in some cases. The Harvard Business School says that it is “rampant”. This is perhaps not surprising since the speed of change has been increasing very rapidly over the past two or three decades. This can mean that being in a situation of change is more normal than dealing with a period of stability. Here I will explain what is meant by change fatigue, show how it impacts on digital transformation and provide some suggestions of how change fatigue can be reduced or eliminated.
What is Change Fatigue?
Change fatigue exhibits itself as inertia within companies, and this has a detrimental impact on the ability of the individual or the organisation to address the next batch of changes that are needed. People simply become tired of change and can no longer embrace it in the way they might have in the past. This leads to employees having a lack of energy and motivation towards digital transformation efforts. Even those that usually embrace change can be subject to change fatigue if there is too much change in organisations. The Harvard Business School additionally suggests that change fatigue is worsened by the fact that many people distrust change that is required from the organisation from senior management.
How Can Change Fatigue impact on Digital Transformation
When speaking with clients, I often find that change fatigue impacts on organizations that are undergoing digital transformation through increasing resistance to the change. Many change efforts already fail as a result of resistance, so change fatigue is a major problem for a digital transformation project. In my experience, the impact that resistance typically has on change in digital transformation is that it leads to delays, as time is spent trying to overcome it.
Another problem that change fatigue can cause for digital transformation projects is people becoming discouraged. This may lead to them not trying as hard to overcome problems. Ultimately, this has the strong potential to lead to the failure of the digital transformation activity. I have found from talking with CIOs that it is even harder for employees to feel anything but change fatigue towards digital transformation projects when they continually fail. However, even if change initiatives are successful then change fatigue can still occur.
Change fatigue can also become a problem if certain employees are overly relied on. For example, an energy company in the Asia Pacific region found that one of their leading technology strategists was becoming disengaged and burnt out. This was because every single time something went wrong with business technological change programmes, he was being called on to get the company out of a mess. It was as if there was little time for his day job, and his job had morphed into a role spent fighting fires brought about by ill-thought out change in digital transformation projects. It is easy to see how change fatigue might develop in such a situation. The example highlights how change fatigue can build resistance and reduce engagement even among great employees.
All of these problems can lead to situations where employees simply cannot get behind change anymore. In the end this can mean that digital transformation fails as project goals cannot be met.
How to Overcome Change Fatigue
One way in which change fatigue can be overcome is making sure that everyone fully understands the reasons for the change in the first place. This can help with motivating people towards making sure that the change is a success. I have noticed that where companies aim to get “hearts and minds” behind digital transformation projects at the get-go, there is a greater likelihood of success, and fewer signs of change fatigue.
McKinsey analysts suggest that one of the underlying problems with change is the way that it is managed within organisations. They explain that there has been a tendency to focus on what has been going wrong and why it needs fixing, which does not necessarily inspire people or engage them. They call this the “deficit based” approach. This looks at problem solving, comes up with a solution and then implements it. This appears to sap energy in digital transformation efforts rather than energise people for change. This can be one issue that leads to change fatigue.
Instead, it is recommended to focus on a different approach to driving change, which focuses on aiming at discovering (what the best is), dreaming (visualising what could happen with change), designing (discussing how it could be) and destiny (building the future). This takes a much more positive emphasis, as can be seen. However, it does not necessarily create the sense of urgency that John Kotter, change guru argued was needed to get a change program underway. Combining the somewhat negative sense of urgency with this new positive approach to change may be the answer.
In general, making sure that the change is participatory is also helpful in reducing change fatigue in digital transformation efforts. If you simply tell people what is going to happen and how this is going to occur, it is not terribly motivating. Rather, engaging them by asking them how they think the change could best be implemented helps to win over those all important hearts and minds that will drive the digital transformation project to succeed.
Change fatigue is a serious problem which seems to occur as a result of too much change within organisations. This leads people to become disenchanted with the change, unmotivated or even resistant to it. I recommend taking a more positive approach towards change, rather than focusing on what is wrong and how it can be fixed. This can be enhanced by operating a participatory approach with those involved in the change, helping to gain buy in from employees. Ensuring that people really understand the reason for the change can also be a factor that can overcome change fatigue in digital transformation projects.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.