Senior leaders underestimating “change fatigue”

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Employees are being worn down by a continuous volume of change but too often senior leaders fail to see it – at least that’s according to a recent seven-country survey of senior execs.

Commissioned by Ketchum Change, the study suggests business leaders adopt a “liquid” culture and operating model – if they hope to keep exhausted employees engaged and productive.

“Dynamic business environments and a culture of continuous change is the new normal for large organizations, and it’s only going to accelerate,” said Tyler Durham, president of the leadership and change-management consultancy.

“Employees don’t have time to adapt to one change before the next one is upon them,” he continued. “The challenge for leaders is to drive change in ways that energize and empower people and ensure their organizations are prepared both culturally and operationally to embrace change as opportunity.”

According to the Liquid Change Survey, some senior leaders are unaware of the effects of change fatigue while their employees struggle to keep up.

Among partners and C-suite executives, only 28 per cent think change fatigue is highly prevalent in their companies, compared to 41 per cent at the director level, and 47 percent at the SVP and VP levels.

“The survey tells us many top-tier leaders don’t recognize the exhausting effect that continuous change and volatility has on employees and how that exhaustion can lower employees’ productivity, reduce their engagement and damage retention rates,” said Durham. “If leaders aren’t aware of it, they will be unprepared for its damaging effects and the resulting costs on their business,” he added.

However, the survey did identify four critical areas that companies should focus on in their quest to conquer change fatigue.

Transparency: Communicating with clarity and authenticity across borders – employing a combination of open communication, decisive action and personal presence.

Pioneering: Promoting curiosity and experimentation, and supporting risk-taking to break through and innovate.

Dialed-In: Creating strong connections with internal and external stakeholders, embracing fearless listening and fostering co-creation.

Agility: Driving forward through passion and resiliency to seize and act on opportunities in real time.
The survey indicates that to succeed in an environment of continuous change, a different, more collaborative approach must replace the old top-down, command-and-control model.

Outlining a clear strategy and goals (43 percent) and engaging with leaders across the organization to co-create the new environment (41 percent) were cited as the most effective ways to get leaders to believe in and actively lead through change.

Conversely, the most common impediment to successfully navigating through change was gaining input from across the business. Looking at the results of the study overall, it becomes clear that companies that manage change effectively have a more positive outlook on their future and good communication across the organization is key.

“Business leaders and employees have never had to deal with change at the unrelenting pace we see today,” concluded Durham. “Leadership behaviors, corporate cultures and organizations’ operating systems are going to have to adapt and become more liquid to address the new reality and seize competitive advantage or they will break under the strain.”

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