Change Fatigue

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase bandied about a lot in the last couple of years. Workforces are getting weary of the unrelenting change they now face. Or are they? Hmmm…this is a good one to ponder.

Y’see, change is arguably the most natural phenomena known on this planet. All matter is, in some way, in perpetual change. Even if it seems impervious or static. Hark back to those boring science classes that Mr Dunley used to deliver in a distinctly monotone voice in Year 8. Atoms. Neutrons. Electrony-thingos. All that stuff. It’s in constant movement.

Even our physical form is constantly changing. Research shows that 98% of our body’s cells die and are replaced each year. Some, like the colon cells, have a life cycle of just four days—but then, it’s a pretty crappy job. Talk about high staff turnover due to unfavourable conditions. 

A forlorn wish

Yet here we are at work craving for things to stay the same. Quick tip: it’s a futile exercise; don’t bother with this wish next time you’re blowing out the candles. Because nothing is more certain that things will change.

And it’s getting faster. A quick chronology of our major revolutions detailed by Yuval Harari in his wonderful book Sapiens shows they’re getting closer together. 

70,000 years ago. Cognitive revolution. We thought of stuff.

12,000 years ago. Agricultural revolution. We grew stuff.

500 years ago. Scientific revolution. We discovered stuff.

200 years ago. Industrial revolution. We manufactured stuff.

20 years ago. Digital revolution. We emailed, googled then liked stuff.

Note how compressed the timeframes are between major cultural shifts on the planet. One thing you can safely assume is the next revolution is almost certain to happen in the next two generations; likely to even occur in our current generation. Many a boffin is suggesting the digital revolution is the biggest cultural shift Homo sapiens have ever faced. 

So stop wishin’; change ain’t goin’ away. Sounds a lot like a lyric in a country song, but it’s the truth. 

Why we’re feeling weary

Back to this change fatigue thingo.

Perhaps this belief that we’re struggling to ‘keep up’ with change is actually because of our perceptions. Yep, that dastardly cognition—the way we think—is causing us some drama. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love the ability to think. We do it better than any species on the planet. But perception sometimes causes us grief.

Sure people have stress because of change, but maybe they have unnecessary stress because of the way they think about change. See how I italicised the words unnecessary and think. Psst! That’s ‘cos it’s really important.

Control over chaos—not likely

The reason we’re stressing about change is because we try to control it. Read that last sentence again. It’s like, ah, really important. Got it? Great.

We’ve been sold a fairy tale by well-meaning yet misguided consultants over the years. Change management. It’s an aspiration that is completely unachievable. To manage means to control, and sorry to burst the bubble, but you can’t control change. It doesn’t ask permission and it certainly doesn’t play by your rules.

Our weariness comes not from the change, but the perceived wasteful effort of trying to corral, curtail or control change. Want evidence 

  • Have you ever set a plan only to find halfway through it became irrelevant?
  • Perhaps you’ve crafted an awesome strategy for a project team, only to have the game change just as you’re gaining some momentum. Familiar much?
  • Or maybe you’ve been asked to do something, but you’ve held off on starting because you’ve been there before. It’s probably going to all change a couple of weeks in, isn’t it? So why bother?

Notice in those scenarios, our efforts scale themselves to conservation of effort. That’s bad news if you’re trying to build elite teams.

Aim for something healthier

Our shift needs to move from an industrial-revolution inspired paradigm of control to a rapid-change mindset of calibration.  You’ll see that change ‘fit’ teams share the following attributes:

Massively agile

They forget trying to tame the beast; instead they build a culture that lives and breathes prototyping. They test-retest-test their product, service and work practices to the current and near-future world. They celebrate brilliance and don’t hang on too tightly to ideas for favour of the next one coming. 

Super scanners

The best teams are constantly reviewing the data at a range of levels, both macro and micro. The big mistake is thinking that this ought to be the job of some troll-like IT dude in the basement—wrong. It should be everyone’s job to search and find the stories, sales, conversions or services that really matter. Set a pathway and keep checking the compass that intelligent data provides. 

Robust conversationalists

Show me a team struggling with change, and I will find one of two things: a) dysfunction because they’re bitching and moaning, or b) dysfunction because they’re not communicating at all. Rapid change means conflict is inevitable. We’re certain to disagree, have opposing world views or challenge each other. If you haven’t taken the time to set a culture of constructive conflict then you’re in real trouble. 

Peak performers

The world of elite sports has only recently embraced (perhaps only in the past decade) the powers of well planned and executed recovery. For many years it was simply ‘if we train harder than anyone else, we’ll win’. Until they started getting beaten by competitors who’d turn up to the start line fresher and without injury. These days most high-performance coaches know that you can often make more gains in recovery than you can through effort.  Yet in the business world, we’re still to make this discovery. We just get busier. Try and squeeze more in. But this mentality is actually moving us further away from peak state. Great teams plan for recovery and downtime and protect it at all costs because they know how valuable it is.

So here’s the wrap. If your team is fatigued by change, it’s likely they’ve been trying to lasso change and to hold onto the rope. But it’ll never stop, never give in #muchexhaustion

So instead of trying to control change, dance with it. Rather than order your team to try and manage it, respond to it. You’ll have a healthier, happier and more resilient group of people in the long run.