It's been said that the human body is the only thing that gets stronger the more you work it. As I've gotten older and attempted to retain a measure of fitness, it does feel good to get a solid workout in. But more and more, I've also noticed that I need to give my body some rest. What I’ve observed is that most of the time, varying the workout is a better form of rest than remaining idle. Fatigue will come with a workout but I have a choice in how I manage it.
Since my professional career began 20+ years ago, change has been a hot topic and it doesn't seem to ever let up. We talk about responding to change, managing change, leading change... Change seems to be the one constant in our conversation and one with many layers. One of those layers is change fatigue. We can do everything right, just like a good workout, but when it's over, most of us want a break before the next wave. Unfortunately, that's not always possible.
At Soderquist Leadership, we’ve undertaken a number of changes in recent years—some in response to industry or market forces and some self-induced. A few years ago, one of my more tenured team members approached me after we had just left a meeting addressing another change. She said in essence, “Ya know, I’ll be glad when we get past all of this change, and things can just stay the same for a while.” While I agreed that sounded nice, I had to admit that I’m not sure that will ever come. It’s been our experience that rather than find ways to avoid change, we need to build muscle that gives us both the resiliency and stamina to do what we need to do when it comes.
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give tips on how to lead in guarding against change fatigue (my team could tell you), but here are some things we’ve tried to do a good job of in this area:
- Call out the “why”. No one likes change for change’s sake, at least no one I know. People want, need, and deserve to know why change is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s about achieving your vision or responding to a crisis or anything in between. I’ve found that the clearer we are on the why, the more engaged and less fatigued our team is.
- Show empathy. Empathy (I’m in it with you) is different than sympathy (I’m sorry you’re going through this). Leaders need to be role models in change and help people cycle through the inevitable change curve they’re experiencing. If they have observed you riding the same curve, even if you’re ahead of them on it, they will be more confident to fight fatigue, knowing you’ve been there too.
- Shine light on the difference change makes. This is a cousin to “celebrate the wins”. Often, people will fail to take the time after a successful change initiative to stop with the team, turn around, and say, “Look where we were and where we are now.” This is particularly true if the change is gradual or takes a lot of time to implement. Pausing to call this out gives people pride in accomplishment, reminds them of the why, and reinforces that they can (and did) make it.
In my physical workouts, I could resign to old age and give in to what seems like a losing battle, but I know that would be only to my detriment. Because of my workouts, I see results in my wellness exams, feel the effects of good health, and enjoy the ability to keep up with my kids. Likewise, in relation to change, it would be great if there was some magic remedy for the fatigue that comes with it. And while there is no perfect formula to follow, I do believe there are some things we can do to build muscle in our people to enable them to persevere through change and help them enjoy the benefits of having done so.
For more on change, check out this video of Retired ServiceMaster CEO, Bill Pollard, discussing how he looks at change.