The necessity of change for organizational growth and advancement is indisputable. But what do you do when your organization experiences too many changes, and you and your employees are feeling the effects of change fatigue?

In a recent seminar on Effectively Dealing with Organizational Change, we presented to 50 physician leaders at one of the nation’s most prestigious health care organizations. One physician raised his hand in the middle of the seminar and boldly said, “If you really want to help our organization, go to the Executive Team and tell them we’ve had more change than we can handle. We’re all experiencing ‘change fatigue’ and need a break for at least a year or two.” This feeling isn’t unique, and we’ve come across it in many of the industries we work with.

In times of rapid and numerous changes, team members have the right to be fatigued for several reasons:

Many of the changes implemented don’t work as proposed. Team members are tasked with the challenge of figuring out what needs to be done to both solve the problem and achieve the new goal.

Change, any change, always requires more work at first. Even changing your password to satisfy the IT police requires thought and time. Until team members learn the new ways to do the tasks and accomplish the new goals, it will take more work and time.

Change is perpetual. It’s never going to stop, and that fact alone is pretty daunting. No matter how hard you try, you won’t win the battle against change. Almost every change is the result of an economic demand, industry demand, or customer demand. In a fight between you and the world, bet on the world!

When it comes to guiding your team members through multiple and sometimes challenging changes, it is your responsibility to lead by example and be the leader they are excited and motivated to follow.

Outlearn Your Competition. The world is rapidly changing. To remain relevant and successful, set goals for what you’re going to learn and what you will do differently to align yourself with tomorrow’s world. Quickly coming to the realization that you are not going to win the battle of change is the first step in dealing with “change fatigue.”

Honor the Past, and then Build a Bridge to the Future. When team members feel the way they did things before is being criticized, they are more likely to dig in their heels to defend past practices. Instead of criticizing the way things were, honor it. And then lead a discussion about what a new vision with even better results could look like.

Listen to Your Customers and Act on the Feedback. Listen to and watch your customers. If you listen to feedback, and act on their feedback, it will help you to continuously raise the bar. There are two exceptions to this rule: The first is when the customer wants to do something that is not in their best interest and they don’t have the necessary experience or knowledge to know it.

The second example is the Steve Jobs and Henry Ford Syndrome. If Henry Ford had listened to his customers, he would have started to breed faster, stronger horses. If Steve Jobs had listened to his customers and the music industry, he would have made a higher-quality CD instead of the iPod and iPhone.

Set Goals Focused on Continuous Improvement. Create an environment where everyone is focused on “good, better, best…never let it rest, till the good is better and the better is best.” Yes, sales revenue, profits, quality, efficiencies, staffing ratios, staff education and innovation need to improve each month. This means some people will say, “No matter what we do, you’re never happy.” Great leaders are happy with and grateful for what is accomplished every day. But, great leaders are great leaders because they continuously improve the condition of their stakeholders.

Measure the Hard, Tangible Results. Results count! It’s important that everyone on your team is crystal clear on the goals and the team’s progress towards achieving those goals. Employees need to know how their work and efforts are contributing to the goals of the team, especially in times of change.

Take Pride in Your Failures. When it comes to change and innovation, some stuff will make you and the team look brilliant. Other projects will be less successful. The quote attributed to Thomas Edison sums it up well: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” To be innovative, you and your team have to be willing to take pride in your failures.

Share the Anchors with Your Best Competitors. Some team members don’t desire to continuously improve and simply will not change. They show up, and do the job they way they always have, in the manner they have always done it. In today’s fast-paced business environment, companies cannot afford to pay an employee who isn’t motivated to continuously raise the bar and improve processes, services and products. Coach them, counsel them and train them. When that doesn’t work, it’s time to share them with your competition.

Recognize and Celebrate. It’s important to celebrate each day’s success. It is also important to recognize the people and team who have contributed to the implementation of innovative and cool stuff. What some leaders forget to celebrate, however, are the team members who tried something new and innovative that simply didn’t work. Without a culture where people can take pride in innovative failures and be motivated to get back up and try again, people stop trying at all.

So how did we address the issue with the physician who raised the issue of change fatigue? We let him know that we would be happy to recommend to his boss that they stop making changes for the next few years under these 3 conditions:

  • Patients stop raising their demands of what they expect from their health care providers.
  • Competitors stop trying to steal this organization’s patients.
  • It becomes easier to make more money under the traditional healthcare model.

As uncomfortable as change is, it isn’t going away in any facet of our lives. The faster leaders and team members can not only accept change, but be excited and motivated about it, the faster their organizations will innovate, grow, and be even more successful.