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How to combat change fatigue

when you are leading change

Are you finding the amount of change you are dealing with exhausting? If you are you are not alone! Judging by the reactions I have seen, heard and personally felt to the current business environment and the rapidly changing government rules and guidelines, the onset change fatigue is definitely setting in.

Change fatigue is nothing new, especially to those who work in and around projects, but right now we are dealing with it not only in our work lives but also in our lives in general.

So what can we learn from our previous experiences of change fatigue to make coping easier? Are you ready to get curious and make some choices based on what you find?

What is Change Fatigue?

There is no doubting that too much change for too long is exhausting. When things change we become more conscious of how we do things, things that were automatic or semi-automatic now require thought and more energy to make them happen. We expend even more energy wondering how to do things, working out how to get things done and quite possibly worrying too. Add in a big dose of uncertainty both personally and economically and it's not surprising that we are all experiencing a degree of change fatigue.

But how does that change fatigue impact the people you work with, do you know the symptoms? They can be very broad from general despondency, to disengagement, stress and a prolonged drop in performance even when the dip that comes with the change curve has passed, but most often it starts as grumblings and moaning about what is happening.

It can impact individuals, whole projects, whole organisations and now it seems to be impacting society generally. It's clear to see when we get more government announcements but I've noticed that it's also there when anything new is mentioned. It can be a subtle eye roll, resigned look, a feeling of 'oh no another thing to think about', which ever symptoms you are seeing, they are certainly becoming more prevalent.

What can we do about Change Fatigue?

So what can we do about it? Change management offers us some ideas and solutions, and some of those can be applied relatively easily while others need some tweaking.

There are two underlying causes of Change Fatigue, too much change in too short a time, and how we lead change.

We can certainly control and change how we lead, but, as is the case at the moment, we can't always control how much change there is.

How can we control the amount of change we are experiencing?

The amount of change being imposed on us at the moment makes the classic advice for reducing change fatigue by reducing the amount of change and it's impact rather redundant.

That said while we have to deal with the changes being imposed on us by the government due to Covid and the changes to our trading environment with not only the economic impact of the pandemic and any government schemes which can help us but changes to legislation like IR35 and of course BREXIT which are all going to be on us before we know it, we can, however, choose how many other change initiatives we are introducing, others could be put on hold or stopped altogether.

We do have a choice about that.

A Change in Perspective

I also think it's time to remind ourselves and our teams that we have been dealing with what we called the VUCA world, the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, for a long time now. As managers and leaders, we have been striving for continuous improvement for even longer, and what is that if not incremental changes for the better.

Maybe it's time to stop framing everything that is happening around us as abnormal and waiting for the level and amount of change to go down.

We are going to need to keep dealing with rapid change, just as we have since before the pandemic, the impact of new technologies and new players in our markets didn't start this spring. We knew how do deal with that. We need to keep adjusting our course and continually improving what we do, just as we always did. What we need to do now is do the two together.

 A change in our perspectives and helping our teams see things from an alternative view, setting that vision and demonstrating those working principles will help you and your team see this as a series of smaller but importantly linked things that become easier to manage and don't feel like as many changes, thus helping us reduce our change fatigue.

Prioritise the Changes

That bigger picture, organisational and societal view, finding and communicating connections between the different moving parts in your working world will also enable you and your team to prioritise the different changes that you are reacting to.

Not all the changes you need or want to make are equal, some are urgent as they impact how you serve your customers or clients, or the overall viability of the company, others fall into the nice to have category, and some will be somewhere in between. Knowing where what you are working on sits on this scale and having a shared view on that, allows you and the team to manage your energy and time effectively.

Prioritising your projects and putting them on a road map of changes helps people see how things fit together and how some of the items further down the road are ideas, places you might visit, projects that can and probably will change in scope and outputs by the time you get to them, but also that they are still important enough not to be forgotten. It allows you to make sure you are fixing the things that matter most first.

Long Term Direction

At the moment for most businesses, the planning horizon for detailed plans is relatively short as it should be when there is a lot of uncertainty, and since this uncertainty is likely to continue, knowing what direction you are heading longer term helps us make decisions that are in line with that longer-term direction.

As leaders, we need to keep reminding people about that long term direction. Often when I'm talking about this with my clients, they tell me they have told them, and that is great, but we need to keep reminding people. And if change fatigue has set in then its almost certainly time to talk about it some more. If you are feeling like you talk about nothing else you are probably nearly doing this enough.

Find ways to tie it into the other conversations you are having with your team, for example when they come to you with ideas ask them how it fits with the long term plan, things like that all help us all grow our understanding of the direction we are going.

How you lead change to reduce change fatigue

So the second area to look at when we are looking to reduce change fatigue is how we do what we do as leaders. We have touched on some of them already, and in general the better you get at leading change and applying the change leadership lessons you are learning along the way, the bigger impact you will have in terms of reducing change fatigue.

We have talked already about communicating the long term vision, where you and the team are going, your team values and what really matters, we have talked about linking all the changes to this long term vision and talking about it a lot.

Lead through to the end of each change

One thing I have noticed many managers and leaders do, is only to think they are managing change and only considering something a change until they personally have processed that change.

As leaders of change we often start our journey with that change much earlier than our team, so we tend to get to the point where we think it's all done before our team and sometimes before some people have even started. We need to make sure we are still thinking of changes as changes and supporting our team accordingly until the last person in the team has reached the finish line.

What happens if we don't do this is that we may experience just one or two changes at a time but our team are left facing a backlog of changes which are all getting to them at the same time, multiplying the fatigue they feel around change.

Listen to your team

Alongside that, it is important to listen to your team. How are they? What is concerning them? What do they think?

When your team feel really heard and understood, it helps them feel valued and involved. And when you know how important you are to the team and have helped design what you are all doing it is far less exhausting than when change is being done to you.

Listening to your team and involving them in the changes will help reduce change fatigue.

You can find out more about how to be a better listener here.

Having great and open conversations with them will also help you empathise and deepen the trust in your team.

Manage everyone's expectations

By talking and listening you can manage people's expectations on things like how much is going to change and how fast. You can also help them understand what is expected of them and what doing a great job means in practical terms for their role.

Talk about Change Fatigue

You can also help your team manage their levels of change fatigue by talking about it, helping them understand what is happening and sharing ideas for managing it.

What is working for one member of the team may work for you or for someone else in the team and knowing you are not the only one struggling with this can make a big difference.

We can also support our teams by noticing when they are not looking after their general well being, or maybe working too many hours, the better we are at managing our energy the better we perform and it's often easier for someone else to see when we are overdoing things than it is for us to see it ourselves. A quiet word, letting someone know you appreciate them and you have noticed they seem exhausted can make all the difference.

Summary & Taking Action

So in this episode, we have talked about change fatigue and what we as leaders can do to help manage it and the impact it is having on us and on our teams.

We talked about breaking it down and stopping thinking of the level of change as unusual, rather an extension of our continuous improvement work and our ability to deal with a rapidly changing world. We talked about the two ways to reduce change fatigue, reducing the amount of change at any one time and improving how we lead change, and some practical things you could do in both those areas right now.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience. Some will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is 

What are you going to do today to reduce change fatigue for yourself and your team?