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Coping with Change Overload

Over 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus commented that the only constant is change. Change may only be different today in that there’s more of it. First your department is reorganized, and that’s barely completed when you and your staff are given a new vice president who decides to reorganize again. Or just as everyone is recovering from the introduction of a new management system and a series of new policies and procedures that run counter to the management system’s procedures.

Such continuous change can lead to severe employee burnout. Change loses its importance. Employees grow tired of going from new program to another. It seems to them as if it is more important to management to implement a change quickly than to conduct a realistic assessment of its chances of success.

You can’t eliminate the stress that comes with continuous change, but you can reduce employee cynicism toward change initiatives by sharing your long-term vision, as well as short-term goals, with your employees. They will, then, be able to see how proposed changes will help to achieve that vision. They may even become sources of new ideas.

It will also help if employees are kept in touch with the business environment. If employees are closely connected to customers’ needs and are alert to the actions of competitors, they won’t be sent into shock when circumstances cause a shift in directions or priorities.

To ensure their appreciation of the reasons behind the change, explain the change clearly to all involved. Tell your employees the rationale for it. Specify their role in it. Describe both the short-term and the long-term implications. Don’t let doubts grow. Such doubts will only create resistance, generate frustration, and trigger further feelings of stress in today’s leaner organizations. If the stressful feelings need an outlet, hold gripe sessions within your operation to let employees voice their frustrations.

What do you do if, after considerable work, nothing happens?

Not every change you lead or support succeeds. There always comes a time when you have to fish or cut bait. If the change effort not only isn’t working but the results anticipated are unlikely to occur, then it is time to cut bait.

More important than the fact you have to kill a project is how you do it. You don’t want to discourage other change efforts by your actions. Don’t pretend the failure didn’t happen. Rather, address the reason the project is being declared at an end. Share with those involved with you in the project what was learned from the effort. And, most important, discuss with your supporters what will be done differently in the future with change initiatives to increase the odds of their success. Go out on a positive note.