Fighting change fatigue and disengagement
How do you keep change on the radar when there are delays? How do you fight change fatigue in your teams?
Our ipad, iPod,smartphone, hotspot driven world has trained us to expect answers quickly. Through social media, we can voice our opinions instantly to a global audience We get information on demand. Unfortunately not everything moves as fast as it does in our wireless, 3G world.
How do we keep the momentum going for drawn out change projects when we live in a world of instant answers and solutions?
Many change initiatives in organisations are measured in months and years. Answers to important questions aren’t always readily available. Information flow at times seems clogged. Sometimes the direction we’re supposed to take is not clear or keeps changing. Hardly the recipe for long term engagement.
Restructure,a change of service delivery model, a merger with another organisation or significant change to internal processes (often combined with the introduction of new software) are common change projects. All of them long term undertakings with big winners and big losers. Most are competing with other high organisational priorities and subject to a volatile external environment. Regardless of whether the change was greeted with excitement, fear or eye rolling change fatigue, it’s likely at some point in implementation the momentum will slow down and the project will seem to have slipped off the radar.
The much promised ongoing communication updates and forums for discussion may lose steam. The leaders may seem to have turned their attention to the next big change, taking with them some of the initial enthusiasm and support. How do you keep your team engaged in the process, even when it drags on with stops and starts? Start by avoiding the three common gaps many managers create in change processes: the communication gap, the execution gap and the celebration gap.
Closing the Communication gap
Most of us have heard the three keys to successful change: communication, communication, communication. This isn’t merely passing on information, but connecting with what people care about, what they are worried about and helping them develop strategies to cope with the uncertainty. Even when there is no change in status, regular updates are important to keep the project alive and minimise anxiety. Create an atmosphere where people can constructively raise concerns. Be honest. Not all changes will be thresholds of wonderful new beginnings. Gretchen Anthony, an Accredited Business Communicator observes, ‘In many change situations, the people who once had power don’t give it up without a fight, management changes often leave leadership vacuums and long periods of strife in their wake. What once was a dream team can quickly become a dysfunctional nightmare. Starting where you left off yesterday is the only way to maintain productive momentum. It’s important to remember that today starts where yesterday left off, not two days ago or last week or last year.” Help people build strategies to invest their energy in moving forward rather than wasting it on the past which can’t be changed.
Closing the Execution Gap
Sometimes projects stall because people aren’t sure what they can do, what they should do and how to measure progress. Stephen Covey reminds us that it‘s ‘important to translate high level goals into action. Just because leaders are clear about the goals at the top, it doesn’t mean those on the front line are. The front line usually delivers the bottom line.’
A Harris Poll found only 15% of people surveyed knew their organisation’s goals and priorities, only 19% percent took ownership of them because they felt involved in them, and a whopping 51% didn’t know what they had to do to action the goals.
These statistics apply to change projects as much as they apply to day to day operations. Be sure your staff know the aims of the change and how their role fits into the bigger picture. Give them measurable milestones and targets, regularly reinforcing the decisions and choices that they are empowered to make.
Closing the Celebration gap
Acknowledge progress and achievement. In some cases, the achievement may be that the team survived a politically difficult fortnight with their professionalism intact. Remind your team that incremental progress is still progress and worth celebrating. When things go wrong, start conversations by first documenting what is going right.
Tom Peters, the management guru says “We create and then get caught up in, an endless parade of fads but while the world is indeed changing, the basics of ‘getting things done through people’ remain the same as they were a hundred, or hundreds, of years ago“. And the way to get things done through people is to keep them in the communication loop, ensure they are clear about expectations, give them a voice and spend time reinforcing what is working.
Many will read this and think ‘there’s nothing new here, I already knew all of this’. Weekly, I go into organisations that seem more like warzones than workplaces. Often this is due to one or more of the three gaps present in a change process. We may know all this and even espouse it, but really, how deeply is it embedded into our daily behaviours, values and practices?
First published in In Business Magazine.