Change Fatigue occurs when there is a misalignment between strategy, execution, vision, engagement, and purpose. As alignment decreases the opportunity for change fatigue to set will increase. The sense of purpose becomes fractured as attention becomes distracted and the image of the larger whole disintegrates.

Towards a Unified Theory of Change Fatigue

The fracturing of this larger sense of meaning interferes with memory storage and retrieval. As memory formation increasingly fixates on specific remnants of experience and perception the ability to retrieve comprehensive and complex memories decreases. As the basic unit of meaning, the splintering of memory into discrete and disconnected units will often interfere with the perception of time and space.

The model enclosed provides a theoretical framework for explaining how change fatigue forms:

  • Strategy is defined by the tools and methods by which the team or corporation pursues its goals.
  • Execution is defined as the processes and mechanisms by which momentum and progress is both initiated and maintained.
  • Vision in the context of this model emphasizes the externally desired goals and outcomes pursued either jointly or individually by the team members.
  • Engagement in the context of this model emphasizes the externally leveraged processes, tools, and mechanisms that keep employees and teams involved.
  • By contrast, Purpose is defined as the internal sense of meaning and value realized by both the individual and the team in pursuing (and contributing to) a specific (and frequently shared) activity.
  • Memory becomes crucial towards combating change fatigue as it represents the storage of experience, knowledge, and purpose.

The quality and nature in which memory is formed and retrieved has a significant impact on both the individual/team’s motivation and their sense of purpose. Corporate models often support the fragmentation of memory and its retrieval through the following mechanisms that limit complex memory formation and a unifying theory of purpose:

  • Hierarchies & Reporting Structures
  • Bureaucratic “Red-Tape”
  • Functional vs. Team Based Divisions
  • Non-Dynamic Job Descriptions
  • Ineffective (or Incomplete) Change Management Mechanisms
  • Processes, Policies, & Mechanisms that Reinforce Delays, Error Rates, & Omissions
  • Barriers to Agile Processes & Flexible Decision Making
  • Frequent Strategic Changes, due to Poor Planning, Analysis, and Requirements Gathering up-front

Towards a Unified Theory of Change Fatigue

Solving change fatigue requires bridging the gap between the past-present-and-future in the pursuit of a shared vision. Storytelling, corporation celebrations, and traditions that reinforce a sense of meaning and purpose are helpful because they support the joining of memory with the individual’s past-present-and-future purpose.

Connecting the loose-ends, and reconciling the unintended mechanisms that disintegrate a unified sense of purpose and meaning, becomes crucial towards combating corporate change fatigue. Planning initiatives that strengthen the individual’s sense of purpose and meaning has the added benefit of improving team and cross-department coordination, collaboration, and problem solving.

Towards a unified theory of change fatigue

Being aware of this quasi psycho-strategic calculation is only the first step to resolving corporate change fatigue. Additional strategies can also include:

  • Communicating & Celebrating both Start & End Dates on Change Initiatives
  • Confirming Roles, Responsibilities, and Action Items
  • Supporting Planning & Execution Processes that Incorporate a Systems Approach
  • Confirming Requirements, Resources, & Competing Initiatives throughout the Change Management Life-Cycle
  • Monitoring Performance Velocity to Insure Expectations do not Exceed Capacity

Change fatigue is not inevitable. It is a result of poor planning and choices made throughout the project (or change management) life-cycle. A failure to plan, and take inventory of competing projects and environmental constraints, is a choice.

Unified theory of change fatigue

Resolving change fatigue does not benefit a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This is because the antecedents leading up to the formation of change fatigue will differ based on the following:

  • Culture
  • History
  • Experience
  • Ability
  • Traditions & Rituals
  • Resources & Tools Available/Used
  • Commitment

Notice the characteristics noted above are not just limited to corporations but also extend to people as well. Corporations do not exist without their employees and thus a lack of commitment and engagement at the personal level will impact the larger whole.

Towards a unified theory of change fatigue

Innovation cannot occur in an environment that reinforces change fatigue. Similarly, innovation cannot occur in an environment where memory formation and strategy are exclusively focused on the moment and single context.

The question thus becomes, ‘if change fatigue is a function of having a unified sense of purpose, integrated into a complex memory based system’, in what areas can you help your company to improve? To increase employee resilience to change fatigue? Share your comments below.