Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tired of Change or the word 'Change' ?

Picture this! Launch of a 'Change' with great fanfare. Sleek toolkits being distributed. Meetings happening to convince people. Slogans pasted all around exhorting one to embrace the new way. People looking at them with tired eyes muttering 'Now What!'. Some roll up their eyes, others shrug with a sense of deja vu. The tool kits neatly lying on shelf, hardly opened. People sitting unitnerested in meetings counting away the time. Does it sound familiar?
Commonly known as 'Change Fatigue', it happens when people get tired of being part of incomplete or failed 'Change' projects.

I remember an incident from my professional life where Quality Circles were initiated with great fanfare, but lost steam midway. Later when we wanted people onboard for Kaizens, we had the scepticism and passive resistance. Luckily we did not fail this time otherwise for any other new project we would had then an active and vocal resistance.

But aren’t the failures a part of life. Does every new project succeeds? Is there any company which succeeded in every new endeavour? Isn't it also important to manage the change fatigue in face of failures and launch of new programs. Managing Change is important and widely researched area, but managing 'Change Fatigue' has also been a talking point for a while.

As one has rightly said 'People don’t resist change, they resist being changed'. Does the change program always need to be initiated with great fanfare? Why it cannot be subtle? So subtle that they don’t feel scared that a big tsunami of change is going to engulf them and no one knows what will be left after the water recedes.

'Create urgency for change', the popular first step of change management can also be done in subtle and quiet way. When we introduced Kaizens, we did not harp much on the word 'Kaizen' or 'Change'. We just worked on desire of people to improve their working environment and contribute to growth of the company. A 5 day session was introduced to implement their desires. Though the 5 day program was kaizen format but we refrained from using the word much. The goal was to institutionalise ‘continues improvement culture’, not to do 'Kaizens'.

The subtle approach has other advantages. If the project fails, people don’t feel that a big 'Change' has failed. They forget it sooner and move on to the next. Maybe heroic change management works for the start. But what when the hero leaves? A change can survive in spite of its hero only if it is embraced by employees as their own and not associated with any person or department.

For a company which desires to imbibe change in its culture, if takes a subtle approach, people will not feel threatened but welcome it. It’s not the change which people abhor over time. It’s the word 'Change' which brings back and sums up all the unpleasant memories of past failures.

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