AVOIDING CHANGE FATIGUE
Change is hard—we hear it all the time. Whether you are managing an organization through a large-scale change effort or drastically trying to change an organization’s culture, it is commonly accepted knowledge that change is uncomfortable and difficult. It is also frequently espoused that change takes time.
In my experience, change efforts typically fail for two reasons: 1) because the proper change management processes have not been applied and the change effort crashes and burns with a bang, or 2) the change effort loses momentum, then loses support and dies with a whimper.
THE BIG MO
Whether it’s on the sports field or the workplace, gaining and keeping momentum (or “The Big Mo”) is what usually leads to success. Momentum can shift. It can be fleeting. The Big MO is what all change agents should aspire to. Once you have it, don’t let it go. Push to finish strong. Change experts often focus on the actual change management process itself but rarely is the sense of urgency (and capitalizing on momentum) given the same level of importance.
The knowledge that change is hard often leads us to tiptoe through change with caution. We over-prepare, over-communicate, over-analyze and take our time just to be sure that our employees, co-workers or friends are comfortable through an otherwise uncomfortable process. While this approach to change is noble, it can be ineffective due to an aspect of change that’s not necessarily common knowledge: change fatigue.
What is change fatigue? Does it mean being tired of change? Well, kind of but it does not refer to the change itself (the new processes, organizational structure, etc.), change fatigue refers to HOW we manage change, how long we take to go through it and how burnt out our employees become by the process.
In the City of Philadelphia, we are going through change as we speak. I sit on a steering committee for the Administrative Systems Modernization (ASM) project led by Judi Cassel, Robin Falkner and Rick Stewart with the help of GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association). This is a huge undertaking, modernizing the City’s payroll system, its timesheets and other essential “back office” operations. The ASM project will drastically improve the City’s efficiency but it will also change the day-to-day activities of almost every city employee.
In its current stage, the project’s leaders have helped prepare us for change by ensuring senior level executive sponsorship (that’s me and the Steering Committee) and through surveying “change readiness” factors across the organization (this includes communication, training, motivation, teamwork, organizational culture and planning). They have also walked us through some of the tools to help ease the process such as communication strategies, training programs; employee (or user) support and incorporating change management into other project activities.
The ASM project leaders have also helped minimize the potential for change fatigue. They are moving quickly. That’s critical because change fatigue can affect organizations and paralyze important change efforts. Although all of the aspects of change management are important, there are two critical “truths” to change that you must consider if you want to be successful and avoid change fatigue.
THE CHANGE RULES
The first is the “10/80/10″ rule, a theory that most of us have probably seen applied somewhere in our lives whether we’ve realized it or not. The “10/80/10″ rule states that whenever a change occurs in an organization: 10% of the staff are already on board and ready; 80% need to be convinced but can be persuaded; and 10% will never be on board regardless of what you do.
The second is the “Change Curve” which shows that regardless of how well you manage the change effort, user productivity will initially drop by at least 10% when a change goes live and then sharply and continuously improve as intended.
The take-a-way from these two points is this: those truths remain the same no matter how well you prepare for change. No matter what you do, the 10/80/10 people will still exist; no matter how much training you provide, you will still see a decrease in user productivity at first. Sometimes we prepare elaborately for the inevitable resistance that comes with any change effort. Thinking that if we just manage the change better, we can avoid disruption. But the fact remains that no matter how well you communicate, integrate, get buy-in around a change effort, it is still a disruption that will have some negative impact. Your job is not to prevent that, it’s to minimize the inevitable disruption and get things stabilized so everyone can get back to work and move on as quickly as possible.
So what does this say about change fatigue? It says that if disruption is inevitable, you should reduce the duration of the disruption. Get in and get out. The faster you get through the change, the more quickly your organization will reap the rewards of increased performance. Properly communicate, give employees the tools they need to be successful through a change effort, move quickly through the process without wearing employees down and then enjoy your new efficiencies. Avoid fatigue.
Significantly, I am not suggesting you ignore or short-change the essential components of change management—you cannot. Our change management leaders, Judi, Robin and Rick, are ensuring that we have the necessary tools for a massive city-wide change. They are also working hard to keep progress moving quickly.
While you cannot ignore the components of change management, you can limit the duration of the disruption and help your employees adapt quickly. As you drive positive change within your organization through strong change management, don’t forget the equally important aspect that creating and keeping “The Big Mo” can make all the difference. Often that’s what really gets you into the endzone.
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.