When we see opportunities for improvement in our organizations, it is tempting to swing for the fences with a big transformation. After all, if things are broken, why wait to fix it?

But there is a problem with this approach: people inherently don’t like to change. Even if they are excited on the surface for new technology or business process improvements, employees will inevitably resist change at some point along the way. Resistance typically is not intentional or malicious – it is human nature to temper one’s enthusiasm when their world is being disrupted.

The fact that change is difficult, complex, and time-consuming is another big challenge. Even something as seemingly simple as a “lift and shift” ERP replacement or targeted business process improvements are more difficult than most expect. This video explains how and why

What is change fatigue?

In addition to natural transformation resistance and complexity, many organizations suffer from change fatigue. Simply put, other changes unrelated to your digital or business transformation can undermine these initiatives. People are human and can only tolerate so much change at once, but not enough organizations consider this dynamic when developing their digital transformation strategies.

Change fatigue typically leads to failure. Since people or only willing and capable to change so much within a certain period of time, resistance often kicks in once organizations reach a tipping point of too much change in too little time.

For example, here are some common changes that we see many organizations trying to balance at the same time as or leading up to their transformation initiatives:

  • Organic growth of the business
  • Merger and acquisition integration
  • Reorganizations and downsizing
  • Covid-19-induced remote collaboration and other “new normal” realities
  • New executive leadership
  • Business process improvements
  • Past digital transformation or ERP failures

Many organizations and teams don’t even think about how these seemingly unrelated changes can disrupt a looming business or digital transformation, but they do.

Why change fatigue is so prevalent during digital transformation?

Executives are often guilty of assuming that they can pile new changes on top of one another with no consequence. Even teams with the best of intentions have limits to the amount of change they can endure. The exact tipping point varies depending on a company’s culture and change history, but every organization has its limit.

Organizations also fail to realize how much change their digital transformation will entail. Many think that it is a simple technology replacement, which in theory won’t really entail that much change. Others mistake good intentions with an unlimited capacity for change. Still others are not close enough to business process changes to realize the extent of the impact.

Whatever the case, organizations and their leaders need to recognize that digital transformation is a big deal. The longer your transformation continues and the larger the impact, the more likely you are to reach change fatigue.

How to navigate organizational change fatigue?

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate these risks. Here are a few ways to navigate change fatigue:

Create an incremental rather than a “quantum leap” transformation strategy. Organizations can often absorb change better when it is incremental over time. Massive, quantum leap transformations can be exhausting (depending on your culture and risk tolerance), so incremental change can be a way to mitigate the risk. Of course, when taken to the other extreme, constant, and never-ending incremental change can create fatigue of its own, so it is important to find the proper balance for your organization.

Define a clear cultural change strategy. For some organizations, the problem lies with its culture. It may be too risk-averse or uncomfortable with change, which increases the likelihood and intensity of change fatigue. In these cases, it is beneficial to focus on bending the culture to be more agile and open to change. It is no easy feat and won’t happen overnight, but it can be a good way to mitigate the risks of change fatigue.

Ensure overall organizational alignment. Misalignment is often the culprit of change fatigue. Transformation teams are highly effective when the organization is not rowing in the same direction, so getting the organization aligned will convert headwinds into tailwinds, which increases a team’s tolerance for change. This is perhaps the most effective way to proactively mitigate change fatigue.

The video below provides tips on how to create alignment within your organization, which begins with your executive team:

Organizational assessments and change fatigue

An initial organizational assessment is the first step to understanding your organization’s tolerance for change and the overall level of change fatigue. An objective view of your organization’s culture and unique dynamics will help identify opportunities to mitigate change fatigue – potentially even before it even happens.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss how to mitigate your change management risks and to develop an effective change strategy for your digital transformation. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your journey!

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