Are you reaching breaking point with change fatigue and saturation?

The number of organisations reporting that they expect to have an increase in the amount of change in their organisation over the next two years has leapt massively by 12% to now 84% according to the latest Prosci research.

When we combine this with the fact that 73%  of organisations are reporting that they are at or near saturation, compared to 59% (in the 2007 study) then we see that genuinely we are racing towards a crisis where not only can projects no longer sufficiently resource, manage or govern for successful delivery of the required outcomes, but that we are seeing evidence of actually harming the very people and organisations that we are pertaining to be helping, this is a very serious topic!

What is Change Saturation/Fatigue?

As human beings we have a finite capacity for both physical and mental work that demands our time and resources.  The more changes that we are engaged in will drive these demands on us and as we have a finite capacity, this must fragment how much of our resources we can allocate to each change.  We see this in the very simple curve illustrated. 


Source: Prosci Best Practices in Change Management 2016

From a project perspective this would apply to several groups of people:

  • The change management, project management and project enabling/operation teams
  • The Sponsor and governance roles
  • The impacted groups and their managers
  • Customers, partners and potentially, consumers in some cases

Don’t forget people have lives outside of their work!

Many people are finding that the boundaries between work and leisure are blurring. This is driven largely from a culture change, where before we had defined limits and constraints as to when and where we could be accessing products and services, now these limits and constraints are rapidly being removed.  

We are all acutely aware that in our society, people have ever busier and complicated lives. The NHS reports that culture change is creating a wide range of health issue: Personal, Friends & Family, Employment, Housing, and Money. From a Change Management perspective, we need to recognise that these personal change factors also influence their readiness and ability to manage change in the workplace. 

What are the consequences?

The Prosci Best Practices research segments this by the consequences on individuals, project teams and the organisation.

Behaviours reported and observed for individuals:

  • Disengagement, apathy and indifference
  • Burn out and fatigue
  • Anxiety, stress and weariness
  • Confusion
  • More complaints and ‘noise’
  • Cynicism and scepticism

But perhaps, the most worrying observation in the research is that one of the key observed behaviour is an increased level of sick leave. Now whether this is simply used as a coping mechanism to take some time out or whether it is playing a part in the increasing trend of mental illness is not clear from the research, but nevertheless, this is a serious concern and becoming more visible to business leaders and HR teams, though as we see later there is insufficient joined up thinking to slow this trend.

Behaviours reported and observed for project teams:

  • Lack of necessary resources
  • Poor project delivery including failure to produce expected results  
  • Delays and schedule implications
  • Little direction and sponsorship from senior leaders

Behaviours reported and observed for the organisation:

  • Automatic change resistance
  • Lack of focus on operation
  • Attrition and turnover
  • Low morale throughout the organisation
  • Changes viewed as distractions

What can we do?

The key approach to minimise these effects is through using Enterprise and Portfolio management techniques:

Using portfolio management techniques can give both visibility of the pinch/stressed points and provide tools to try and balance the people and technical resources.  However, if this is scope only for the technical project perspective, as is currently most often case, then it will miss much of the core groups including impacted users, managers and sponsors, as already mentioned. To do this well, the projects must have very well-defined business outcomes and a clear understanding of their strategic importance, typically this is not well defined or understood.

Within this approach, it should be possible to adjust schedules and even scope (phasing). The research indicates that there is an even greater emphasis on clear and consistently project communication so that there is high awareness of why the project is progressing and the impact if it did not deliver the planned outcomes.  The project sponsorship and organisations wider leadership’s capability to lead their business areas through change needs to be at the highest level, and any drive to develop this capability will have longer term organisational benefits.

Additionally, there is an increasing need to integrate project activities and plans, but this is massively difficult to do and at present there are very few companies who are achieving this well.  Just imagine if it was possible, for example, to integrate the communication plans across an organisation so that people received a joined up, consistent and reduced set of communications.  Achieving this across even a handful of projects in a portfolio is very complex, requiring more sign off and communication release processes. This is an area where tools and processes are rapidly growing in sophistication in this area but this requires a deep organisation wide buy-in from the leadership down to make any significant progress.

Does this all sound familiar? Here are some actions to take... 

  • Check this out in your organisation, are you seeing evidence of change situation or fatigue being an issue? If so start to build a business case as there are number of areas you can make progress.
  • Aim for every project to have good change management in place as this will also provide you with the management tools to identify and mitigate some of the consequences.
  • Sharpen the project/program governance processes so that every project has very clearly defined and measurable outcomes and that these can be aligned to and prioritised by the overriding business strategy.   CMC can assist with this work through the our Change Definition workshops. Get in touch to find out more.
  • Develop an Enterprise Change Management approach, the Prosci Enterprise Change Management boot camp will provide you with processes and tools to help you develop this in your organisation.
  • Target four core areas for change capability building in your organisation, which once delivered now will equip them for the future:
  • Work with HR in your organisation to join up your organisation’s thinking about supporting your people who are exhibiting change fatigue behaviours.

If you'd like to talk to a member of the CMC team about how we can help you overcome your change management challenges, then please get in touch