Dealing with Change Fatigue

Frequent change done the right way.

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It is often said that change is one of the few constants in life, and this seems equally true in the business world. In order to stay relevant, organizations need to constantly evolve and innovate and ensure that they are delivering products and services that meet the needs of their customers. A fast moving business environment means that customer expectations change quickly, and there are a whole plethora of technical, political, economic, social and other changes that an organization needs to respond to. These external forces necessitate internal changes—and this often leads to a plethora of programs, projects and other change initiatives—all of which are likely to affect or impact the organizations business processes.

Yet with so much change happening constantly, it is common to find a certain element of skepticism or resistance to change. It might seem like people are ‘going through the motions’, and appear to be participating in the change initiative—but don’t seem fully bought-in to the idea. There can be many reasons that stakeholders might not feel able to positively rally behind a change, one of which is change fatigue.

We have probably all experienced at least an element of change fatigue in our lives. If you have worked in a large organization long enough, you have probably observed that certain management ‘fads’ seem to come and go, there are regular organizational restructures, and you might even have worked within an organization that seems to endlessly alternate between certain types of strategy (centralization vs decentralization, outsourcing vs insourcing and so on). After years of organizational restructures, desk moves and changes to procedures you might have craved stability—you just want things to stay stable for a year before they start changing again! You just want things to stay still so that you can do your job!

This feeling of skepticism towards ongoing change is completely understandable, and probably affects more of our stakeholders than we realize. As business and process analysts, we might be tasked with examining the processes within a contact center with a view to improving them—and it might be the first time that we have analyzed them. Yet we might find that in the past five years there have been six other teams that have implemented process changes to varying levels of success, that there have been three major changes to IT systems and two major organizational restructures (along with regular desk moves just to ‘keep people on their toes’). The stakeholders, quite understandably, may display a certain level of fatigue when it comes to discussing ‘yet another’ change…

It is worth taking time to examine the conditions that have caused this fatigue to occur. It might be that there have been multiple changes in the past that have been deemed (for whatever reason) by those impacted to be unsuccessful—perhaps because they are more inconvenient for the staff that have to undertake the work. It might be the sheer volume of change, but more crucially it may be because the stakeholders themselves didn’t feel ‘invested’ in the change. The change was ‘done to them’ rather than ‘with them’. Therefore a focus on collaboration and engagement from the very beginning is crucial.

One technique in our toolbox that can help cultivate this collaboration is the humble business process model. Working with stakeholders to understand the current situation, their perceptions of current problems, and iteratively refine this with them enables us to move towards an adapted process that people may more readily adopt. Of course, we can rarely involve every stakeholder—a call-center might have hundreds or thousands of workers—but we can include a representative sample of ‘super users’ who provide valuable input and also act as ambassadors for the change back on the ground.

We might start with very informal process models—sticky notes on a wall—which will help us to elicit and capture key information. It is beneficial to move towards a single model in a shared notation—such as BPMN—that enables different ‘views’ to be created. We can then keep different stakeholders engaged by showing them the level of detail that they need to see, and ensure we don’t blindside stakeholders with complexity that isn’t relevant for them.

Engagement and c o-creation of this type, alongside building a shared model, is one way that we can help to avoid (and even overcome) change fatigue. The human side of change is crucial and mustn’t be ignored!

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