How To Recognize and Prevent Transformation Fatigue

As a leader, you can see all the ways your company can grow. It’s easy to get excited about the future and want to launch initiatives to get closer to your vision. However, too many new ideas and changes can cause your staff to burn out. When team members experience change fatigue, their performance suffers and they may even push back against those plans. 

Learn more about the source of transformation fatigue so you can prevent it.

Identify the Reasons Behind Transformation Burnout

There are many sources of transformation fatigue, and the source affects the solutions you choose.

For example, Brent Gleeson, founder of TakingPoint Leadership, says one source of change fatigue is past projects that have failed. Employees might still feel burned by projects that took longer than expected, were communicated poorly or that failed within a few months. They might not be looking forward to the stress and chaos of change — especially if the change doesn’t last. The trust and optimism you need to drive the company forward are broken. 

To better evaluate whether your company is experiencing transformation fatigue, the team at WGroup says there are questions you can reflect on to consider the mental health of your employees. These include:

  • Am I trying to do too much at once?
  • Do people know the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the initiative?
  • Is there a culture of continuous improvement?

These questions, along with the others addressed by WGroup, are meant to be inward-facing as well as forward-facing. The inward-facing questions address your role in management and whether or not you are guiding change well, while the forward-facing ones look at the company culture and whether your staff is prepared for change. Both sides need to be ready to handle a transformation.  

That said, there is a big difference between a company that has change fatigue and a small group of vocal people, explains lean six sigma consultant Arianna Campbell.

If change fatigue isn’t a firm-wide issue, then it doesn’t make sense to pause all of your initiatives for just a few people — especially if that group is naturally change-averse. Instead, management should talk to those who are feeling burned out to learn about the source of the fatigue and develop a plan to get them on board, Campbell advises.

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Make Sure Your Innovation Efforts Have Enough Resources

Many companies want to implement changes, but sorely underestimate the resources needed to make them happen. Change takes time, energy and investment. Without them, you may be setting your team members up for failure.

“In talking with organizations facing digital transformation challenges, I find a common thread: a big gap between the vision goals and the leaders’ understanding of the depth of change necessary to achieve those goals,” writes Peter Bendor-Samuel, founder of Everest Group.

Leaders tend to underestimate the level of change that will occur within teams and will, therefore, underinvest in the amount of necessary time and resources.

Tamara Rosin at WalkMe says most change initiatives don’t go as smoothly as corporate teams would like. A number of internal and external factors crop up, such as market changes or unexpected team upheaval. This makes the journey far more complex than anticipated. Instead of moving straight from point A to point B, employees have to add points C, D and E, adjusting their plans on the fly. This creates change on top of change.

It’s easy for teams to get burned out by these convoluted change processes — and burn out can produce resistance. The next time the corporate team presents a new change initiative, most employees won’t believe that it will go smoothly or provide the results their managers claim. 

Eileen O’Loughlin, senior project management analyst at Capterra, highlights the dangers of rolling out changes while expecting employees to operate at their usual pace. New systems and processes take time, but many leaders expect the company to function as “business as usual” despite the fact that teams are in the midst of learning new procedures.

Yes, your processes are meant to make teams more efficient, but you need to leave room for inefficiency in the short run as employees figure out the new approach. 

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Invest in Meaningful Change

Another source of transformation fatigue is a pattern of changes that never stuck or produced real results. 

Rich Nadworny, cofounder of Savvy Design Collaborative, highlights the difference between deep and shallow innovation. He sees that most innovation today is shallow: safe, flashy or a copy of something else. Deep innovation, on the other hand, challenges people to change the way they think and often places them in uncomfortable or difficult environments. Your employees will have to push themselves to change and question why they follow certain practices to begin with.  

Deep innovation isn’t easy, but can really benefit companies. Meanwhile, innovation as a buzzword will likely put off any employees who tend to view new ideas as short-term pet projects of corporate.     

“In an organization, overly enthusiastic calls for innovation may well be the thing that kills that which it professes to love,” Alf Rehn, author of “Innovation for the Fatigued:  How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity,” writes. “What today’s endless exhortations for innovation increasingly creates is fatigue, for it is connected neither to actual innovation nor to what people wish innovation to be.”

Employees are constantly pushed to innovate and embrace change when they actually aren’t innovating or aren’t given the tools and trust to actually make change.

Other leaders have seen this form of change fatigue in action. 

“Change fatigue generally sets in following a slew of unsuccessful change initiatives and can be characterized by a lack of buy-in from the get-go, resistance, or even an eye roll or two,” says Holly McKendry, global events at Intertrust Group. 

Your employees need to trust you if they are going to embrace change. Too much shallow innovation or too many failed efforts can break that trust.

Pause Your Efforts to Learn What Really Needs to be Done

If you want to keep your employees excited about change and invested in your transformations, then take the necessary time to ensure the changes you want to make provide real value. 

“Over the years, multiple programs have been rolled out with promises of making work less chaotic, creating work-life balance, and making things better,” writes consultant and change coach Mike Orzen. “While these initiatives are well-intentioned, over time people become exhausted with the new ‘flavor of the month’ and no longer get excited about the envisioned benefits of process improvement.”

Orzen points to frameworks like lean six sigma and agile as examples of process workflows that managers might get excited about but employees feel burdened to learn. These frameworks are often presented to employees as perfect solutions but they aren’t given the resources they need to fully learn and adopt them. Then, six months later, there’s a new software tool or leadership method that employees are expected to learn. 

Additionally, companies often try to cover up problems under the innovation umbrella when management believes that all of their issues can be eliminated with creative problem-solving. However, this often creates more problems or glosses over the real issue. 

Jongwook Pak, assistant professor of human resource management at Trinity Business School, encourages companies to take a meaningful break from change before introducing a new initiative — especially if employees are feeling burned out.

During this break, executives can watch how the company is run and how workers complete various tasks. They can talk to employees to learn about the source of any issues they face. Then, when it is time to change, leadership will have the information it needs to make meaningful decisions. 

In fact, simply listening to your employees and taking their feedback can go a long way to prevent and reduce change fatigue. 

“[Team members] may not ultimately control decisions or changes, but most people want to be heard,” writes Nick Kennedy, manager of organizational change management at West Monroe Partners. “Offer an outlet to help address some of the root cause issues for resistance (many don’t have anything to do with change fatigue).” 

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Make Innovation Part of Your Culture

If you are experiencing transformation fatigue, it could be the result of a company culture that is averse to new ideas or growth. Companies that embrace a culture of continuous improvement are more likely to handle change and transformation well. This culture also allows managers to rebrand change to make it less intimidating. 

An organization that is constantly evolving is more likely to embrace change as the next step forward, rather than a threat to their way of life, explains Michael Hartland at SnapComms. This is better than pitching a change that requires emotional and physical effort to dramatically alter how work is done. When done well, leaders can build a smoother transition and set employees up for the next change on the horizon. 

David Altman, COO at the Center for Creative Leadership, also notes that developing a culture of growth and improvement is a valuable way to build resilience to change. “What leaders must do is to help employees and managers to recalibrate their expectations,” he says. “This is the world we live in now — change is a constant. There is no ‘getting back to normal.’”

Taking time to build a culture of continuous improvement can make employees more excited about change — rather than reluctant to take it on. Employee buy-in during transformations is crucial, write Deniz Caglar and Carrie Duarte at Strategy+Business. Your team members need more than strategic incentives to make improvements happen; they need to engage with the change process and look forward to the future.

Change is particularly successful when employees can see how their individual actions can improve the company as a whole. Their efforts matter.

It’s not uncommon for growing companies to experience transformation fatigue. However, managers who are mindful of their teams and their needs can present change in a manner that inspires. With employee buy-in, everyone in your organization can move the company forward. 

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