I see many leaders struggling with the challenge of needing multiple changes in their organization. Unfortunately, the need to make numerous changes often means leaders bombarding employees with one change initiative after another or simultaneously. This type of constant change leads to change-fatigued employees who learn to fear and avoid change. Change fatigue also increases the risk your current changes will stall out, and the new activities won’t stick.
The constant cycle of changes that don’t stick also wastes time and money and hurts your organization’s ability to respond to future changes. Leaders get frustrated, and employees get labelled as resistant, perpetuating a cycle of toxic change.
The solution, and it is possible, is to move your organization forward through healthy and sustainable change. You can still achieve this and enable multiple changes without creating burnout and change fatigue.
To do this, you must acknowledge and adhere to three truths about change.
Truth #1 Multi-tasking is a myth.
Multi-tasking, the idea that we can do two activities simultaneously, is an illusion. Although it appears and feels like we are doing two tasks in parallel, such as talking on the phone and driving the car, we are not. Our brain is switching from one task to the other. And all that switching comes at a cost. It can take 50% longer with 50% more mistakes when we multi-task.
It’s similar with your change initiatives. Multi-tasking, your change initiatives without a holistic systems approach will lull you into the false belief that change has occurred because you implemented an event. The more change initiatives you have in your organization, the less likely any real change will occur. With each additional change initiative, it becomes harder and harder for leaders and employees to know what’s important and where to focus their energy.
It is possible to create collateral change. Collateral change is when you accomplish one desired outcome as a by-product of another change initiative. That’s what we showed one organization how to do through our change mapping framework.
We worked with them to identify and then consolidate 25 change initiatives into five and helped them identify the opportunities for collateral change. They could meet their strategic goals, new activities and behaviours stuck, and they increased their internal change capacity.
Truth #2 Implementing a change event doesn’t mean any change has occurred
Every change has two dimensions. One dimension is the Event. The Event is the situation or decision that triggers the need or desire for change. For example, it may be the decision to implement a hybrid work environment.
Making the decision and implementing the event (e.g., the new work environment) doesn’t mean people will adopt the new behaviours and activities needed to achieve the intended outcome.
We saw this with one leader we worked with to get their changes organized and on track. They had implemented a new sales process, but no one was using it as intended. There were several reasons why the sales team hadn’t adopted the new activities. Most were because the leaders hadn’t accounted for the second dimension of change—the Whitespace.
The Whitespace is that space between where you are before the event and where you or your team needs to be to achieve the desired outcome of the change event. All real change takes place in the Whitespace.
Initiating a new change initiative before people have successfully navigated through the Whitespace of the current or last changes creates confusion. It increases the likelihood the latest activities and behaviours won’t stick.
Truth #3 You need to create the space within your operational environment for change to occur
You must make every organizational change within the context of your operational environment. And the operating environment – those day-to-day activities that keep your business running almost always takes priority. Therefore, you need to create the time and space for people to unlearn the old actions and behaviours, learn a new way of working, and embed the new activities and behaviours as normal.
Creating and adopting new activities and behaviours is uncomfortable, and they require more time and energy than current activities. We are also hard-wired to get the most done with the least amount of effort; that’s why we form habits quickly.
When you combine the discomfort and extra energy it takes to adopt new activities and behaviours with a full or often overloaded plate of operational tasks, it’s the new activities that will drop off. Real change, the kind that grows your organization and enables your employees to contribute their best, won’t happen if it’s just another initiative added to an already full plate.
When we work with an organization to create a dashboard for their change, we work holistically. I show leaders how to tap into the ability to develop capacity for change consciously and systematically. You create a process and plan for making the time and space needed for new activities to embed as normal. That’s when real change occurs.
These three truths can be challenging to embrace. You need to look inward, and it’s not something you can tackle without support. Talk to us about creating a change dashboard in your organization and creating a healthy and sustainable environment that responds quickly to market and other shifts.