Change Fatigue in 2020: How to Reframe Change and Cut Through the Noise
When we look back on the wreckage that is 2020, one thing will stand out: the rapid and constant change. For months now, we’ve endured business and organizational change like we’ve never seen. All this while managing through the anxiety of perpetual Zoom meetings, online / hybrid / in-person school, job insecurity, family health concerns, a shaky economy, tectonic cultural and societal shifts…plus, a pretty brutal presidential election. Change fatigue is real!
Everyone has a lot on their plates. Everyone is tired. And the best most of us can do is keep our heads above water every day. But of course, none of this means life and business stops.
As a leader of an organization—which also needs change to reset and keep the doors open—what can you do to help you and your organization thrive through this climate of change fatigue?
Let’s look at what’s really going on here and five practical steps you can take.
Acknowledging that Change is a Constant
Before we get to the practical steps, we need to do some reframing. Prior to this year, many organizations enjoyed an unprecedented level of stability. Sure, they dealt with leadership changes, they went through reorganizations, they shifted strategies from time to time. But relative to now, markets were barreling ahead full speed and the future seemed relatively predictable.
All that has changed. At Audacia Strategies, our team is currently working with clients going through: major leadership transitions, reorganizations, and strategy shifts—all at the same time!
And for many of our clients, this has been an ongoing cycle:
- One client has had five senior leadership transitions in as many years.
- Another client has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs as they integrate a series of acquisitions.
So how do organizations experiencing this cycle of change deal with change fatigue?
First, they realize change happens. It sounds simple, but it’s more than a cookie-cutter message made for Instagram, “Enjoy the journey!,” “Embrace change!”
What I mean is organizations that successfully deal with a lot of change realize decisions beget decisions. Organizations can’t stand still, in the same way that we as individuals can’t stand still. We’re all evolving all the time. It’s just that right now, the evolution feels more urgent.
Instead of bracing for the bump, skilled leaders accept that rough waters are coming and engage their entire organizations.
Recognizing that change is a constant won’t necessarily make it any easier. After all, the results of the 2020 election played out basically the way we all thought they would (give or take some percentage points) and that didn’t make the week of waiting for the numbers to come in any easier.
Still, we can’t wrap our minds around the practical steps we can take without first acknowledging the things we cannot control. So what do we do?
1. Treat everyone like adults.
Once we accept how much change fatigue is affecting all of our lives, it’s time to trust that good people will find their way through. Show your employees that you trust them by treating them like the adults they are.
Give them the information they need to
- (a) make decisions
- (b) take care of their teams and take care of their families
- (c) make the information simple, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to access.
Then give them space to work within certain boundaries.
This sounds easier than it is. When we talk about acknowledging the things we can control, managing your team might be the first thing that comes to mind. But if you try to micromanage everyone right now, you’ll quickly end up with a lot of burned out folks.
2. Gather the leadership team together often.
It’s always important to have leadership on the same page and it’s especially critical during times of change and organizing your gorgeous chaos. So, step up the number of conversations with your leadership team.
Get everyone together to identity key pain points for each big change coming down the pike. For example, if you need to furlough employees, you’ll want everyone’s input to figure out the best way to handle issues like:
- fear of job loss in the remaining employees
- concern for the future without departing employees
- concern for the wellbeing of departing employees
- increased workload
- gaps in customer coverage
- lost customer and internal relationships
3. Address challenges head on.
Also, remind leadership and lead by example when it comes to addressing challenges. Change fatigue is difficult enough without challenges being swept under the rug. Instead, face them head on and be as transparent as possible.
Address the challenges by developing plans that are flexible and take alternative solutions into account. Remember, though, that not all challenges have solutions.While you can’t make an employee feel better when their colleague is laid off, you can acknowledge the challenge and the emotions.
Your employees may not like the decision, but they will respect it if you give honest answers about why the organization is changing and show them that your organization is treating departing employees with respect and humanity. If that’s not the case now, it’s up to you to advocate for more humanity in your organization.
4. Provide resources to help.
Be open to finding resources to help everyone at your organization deal with big changes and change fatigue. These resources could include:
- Executive and life coaching
- Relaxation and stress reduction training
- Flexible time off and personal time policies
Make these easily accessible for all, including those working from home, at a client site, interacting closely with customers, etc.
5. Over communicate.
I’ve put this one last because it’s a big one. In my podcast interview with Mike Regina, we discussed how we’re all being bombarded by messages daily and we’re all distracted by #2020life. It feels like we need to live seven times, seven ways.
To cut through the noise, your messaging needs to be on point. So carefully review all leadership messages for tone, ownership, and future vision.
- Focus on messages of those closest to employees (e.g., middle management and line managers)
- Engage employees early in the process.
- Give employees opportunities to ask questions (e.g., comment box, anonymous email, town halls, AMA chats, drop in Q&As, pulse surveys, voice of the employee surveys)
- Prepare leaders for hard questions and hard conversations.
- Give leadership resources to help answer questions.
- Give leaders space and outlets to share what they’re hearing, their experiences.
Encouraging managers share their experiences of change (through change stories) with employees humanizes the experience. These stories are your best tonic for dealing with change fatigue.
Change in 2020 is not really different from other moments of change. What’s different is the context in which the change is happening. Because of change fatigue, the messaging around change needs to be stripped down to its essentials: no flowery language, fewer Venn diagrams. Get to the point. Make the case for change. Speak simply and directly. Be respectful. Be human. Be kind.
If your organization is struggling with ongoing change during this time of uncertainty, our team is here to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation and let’s figure out how to move forward together.
Photo credit: Jacob Lund from Noun Project
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