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Supporting Others Through Change

We are in trying times. Things are changing around us at warp speed. Not only with the current events, but from the constant evolution of technology, society, business and professional expectations.

For those of us 50 or older, you may recall the days of the black and white television with only three stations, rotary dial phones, taking baths instead of showers and sending handwritten letters. Amazing that in the span of 50 years we have gained cell phones for all, the internet and virtual reality. Shocking if you reflect on just how much has changed in the past several years. The speed of change has escalated exponentially.

The speed of change is a very important factor as we think about supporting ourselves and others through change. I think of it like running a race – the faster you run, the more exhausted you potentially become.

Constant change within an organization can be equally exhausting and can lead to “change fatigue.” Change fatigue is a general sense of apathy towards organizational change. It can take form in many ways including reduced workforce morale, increased sick time utilization, reduced productivity or performance (i.e. errors), lack of organizational commitment, increase in turnover and change related chaos.

Why is change tiring?

Learning anything new is hard and takes time. When we are faced with a new way of working, new technology or a new initiative it often means additional workload. Often the new workload does not include a redistribution of work responsibilities. We are often asked to learn these new responsibilities, new work patterns or new roles on top of our already full plate.   Feeling helpless to provide input into a recommended change based on your role in an organization can be another contributing factor. Further, a lack of leadership involvement with the change, a lack of communication about a change or achievements going unrecognized can add to the fatigue as well.

What are the ramifications of Change Fatigue?

If our organizations don’t learn how to help others through change, there are significant ramifications of change fatigue. Excessive change makes the change itself slower, more expensive and more likely to fail which leads to a negative return on investment. Excessive change can leave staff confused about priorities, overwhelmed with work and coping with a false sense of urgency. As a result, staff demonstrate exhaustion, cynicism and disengagement. The effect on the organization can be corrosive and can drain the organizational energy.

How can we help others through change?

Change management done right will circumvent change fatigue. As a Prosci® change management practitioner, I utilize the ADKAR® model to help others through change (https://www.prosci.com/adkar). This framework can help us help others through change and can also mitigate the corrosive impact of change fatigue.

ADKAR® is an abbreviation for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. These are the steps that individuals move through as they experience a change. They are sequential in nature. The first step with managing change well is to build awareness of the change that will be occurring. This is ideally where a thoughtful communication plan is put into place and individuals impacted by the change are identified. The next step is to obtain the individual’s desire to participate in the change. A good communication strategy can assist with desire. Including information about what the change is and why it is happening now, how it will impact them, what the benefit of the change is and what the risk of not changing is. Don’t forget to explain what isn’t changing as well. A well-developed communication strategy that includes many of these specifics can go a long way towards gaining an individual’s desire to participate in the change.

Once the awareness and desire of an individual are addressed, knowledge needs to be built. This is where the training component of the change occurs. Appropriate and adequate time needs to be incorporated into a training strategy to help individuals gain the knowledge necessary to perform the new way of functioning. Once an individual gains the knowledge, it takes time to develop the ability or competency to perform the function at a level of proficiency.  Research tells us that it takes 10,000 hours of “purposeful practice” to develop expertise in a new task (Ericsson, 1993). Giving people an opportunity to practice will give them the chance to succeed in the new way.

Finally, and often missed, is the important step of reinforcement. 70% of change initiatives fail (Hammer &Champy, 1993) often due to a lack of sustainment or reinforcement. Don’t let your change fail! Be sure to incorporate ways to reinforce the “new normal” be it celebrations, recognitions, policy or infrastructure adjustments. Individuals are more likely to participate in change if their feelings are acknowledged, their questions are answered, their training needs are met, and their contributions are recognized.

Earlier in this post I said that the speed and constant nature of change are like running a race – the faster you run, the more exhausted you potentially become. The reason that I used the word “potentially” is because change does not have to be an exhausting process. If we incorporate thoughtful change management practices into the change, we will help support individuals through change itself.

Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops. 

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