The ‘Long Tails’ of Organizational Change Fatigue
70% of transformation efforts fail. This statistic should be seared into your brain by now.
Here’s the hard truth. You’ve conditioned your employees to resist change.
The seemingly endless cycle of organizational change has dragged employees into a perpetual state of exhaustion. This phenomenon is called organizational change fatigue.
Change fatigue is dangerous because it harms the employee experience, fuels resistance, and it can deflate even the most exciting change initiatives.
This makes change fatigue a difficult ailment to remedy — the need to be agile and adaptable in a constantly evolving digital landscape isn’t due to go away any time soon.
Here’s how to effectively handle organizational change fatigue and make sure your transformation efforts succeed.
What contributes to the “long tails” of organizational change fatigue?
At the beginning of a change initiative, you probably see it as moving from Point A to Point B — from the current state to the end goal.
But as we can all attest, the journey is rarely a straight line.
Bumps in the road, market forces, unexpected internal changes, and any number of other factors necessitate you to add Point C, Point D, and maybe even Point E to your route.
Meanwhile, employees must constantly change course, shift responsibilities, and learn new processes, often with few or no added resources.
And this is just one change we’re talking about — most often, employees are navigating multiple changes all at the same time. Combined, these many “short tails” end up having the effect of one big “long tail” change. This can be draining both mentally and emotionally.
When the changes seem to never stop coming and never reach a resolution, the effects of change fatigue and burnout roll in.
The endless cycle of resistance and exhaustion
Employees bemoan change because they’ve experienced the consequences of poor change management too many times. Resistance is engrained in them — it is their first instinct and first defense.
When resistance becomes the predominant attitude, it has the power to override even the most logical changes and make change fatigue worse.
Here’s an example I recently heard about. An enterprise company realized the need to update its meeting and communications platform. Its old one was outdated and lacked important features. The company implemented a new system, which required various email explanations and lots of IT support.
It soon became clear this was not a good choice. The platform was not intuitive, the connection was unreliable, and the need for support was unmanageable. After just a few months, the company leadership decided to switch platforms once again — this time to Zoom.
But employees put up a fight.
At this point, the familiar pain points of the flawed software seemed better than dealing with the drudge of onboarding once again. Even though Zoom promised to be much better, employees lamented the switch.
In effect, change fatigue fueled resistance. Because employees were already exhausted by the first transition, they resisted the second.
The solution: Create a better foundation for change
You cannot avoid change fatigue completely — most employees are already “scarred” from prior change failures, so the instinct to resist new changes already exists.
But you can mitigate those negative effects by creating a solid foundation for future changes.
1. See the big picture of change
The first step to doing so is understanding that it’s not only the largescale “long tail” changes that case change fatigue and damage the employee experience. The many small “short tail” changes that occur on a daily basis can also accumulate and spur this effect.
For example, it’s not just the newly appointed team leader that employees must adjust to. It’s also the recent software version update, the new Gmail interface, and the new system for scheduling meeting rooms.
2. Keep the end in sight
The second step is making sure that all of the changes going on actually have some sort of resolution.
Some change processes are long. The journey might need to be winding. But it’s critical that eventually, you reach the destination. Otherwise, you’re keeping your employees in limbo — always in the midst of change but never reaching the “new normal.”
3. Provide adequate support
The third and key step is to provide the resources and support necessary to make the change easy. When you ask your employees to embrace a change, you’re often asking them to upend the ways of working with which they are most comfortable. So, why not give them the tools to make it easy?
For instance, digital learning solutions that provide users with real-time guidance and support enable first-time users to complete any process. They don’t need time-consuming training sessions or tutorials. They simply need to follow the steps on the screen.
Boom. Problem solved, frustration alleviated, and fatigue relieved.
Focus on what you can do
When resistance is pervasive, changing employees’ outlook is a steep challenge. But by following the three tips listed above, you can slowly start to dismantle the defenses that fuel resistance and perpetuate change fatigue.
And, by providing your staff with the right change management tools, you can ensure all of your change efforts go as smooth and successful as possible.