OPEX Top 10 Transformational BS (Bogus Statements): Change Fatigue

In the lead up to the 5th annual OPEX Europe summit, the official event blog will become home to some of the industry's most informed and influential voices. In this blog post, Anthony Shingleton, VP Business Development EMEA at Simpler Consulting (an IBM company) explores one of the many OPEX 'urban legends': the myth of the change fatigue curse.

In the run up to Simpler Consulting's session at OPEX & Business Transformation Europe, “Breakthrough Next Generation Transformation: Simplify, Automate & Augment”, we felt it was time to look back on the past and dispel some of the most common statements we hear about transformation. 

Over the next few weeks we will address each statement one by one and dive deeper to explain the truth behind them, why they have become an OPEX “urban myth” and what can be done to avoid your transformation succumbing to these particular pitfalls.

A combination of research, attending the last 2 OPEX in Business Transformation conferences and interviews with OPEX leaders brought to light the following transformation BS (Bogus Statements) 

  1. “We did not get as far as wanted because change fatigue”
  2. “The best way to transform is to outsource”
  3. “Transformation is best managed by means of a PMO model”
  4. “All transformations are subject to the law of diminishing returns”
  5. “People simply don’t like change”
  6. “Digital transformation = technology transformation”
  7. “Transform through becoming a world-class benchmark”
  8. “RPA, IoT, process mining, cloud computing are transformation holy grails” 
  9. “Certification = capability”
  10. “Transformation is either delivered ‘bottom-up’ or ’top down’

Failure from change fatigue

So why do we hear transformation leaders and organisations say that they failed because of change fatigue, when what we should be hearing is quite the contrary, i.e. “we succeeded because of it!” We may find this statement surprising, but let’s think about it a bit deeper: 

  • Look for a definition of change fatigue and we will generally find something along the following lines: “organisational change fatigue is a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organisational changes by individuals or teams.” (Wikipedia). So, if we knew there was change fatigue and still failed, we clearly did a bad job. This would not be a case of “we can’t know what we don’t know”. We simply either chose to ignore it or did not overcome it in our latest transformation initiative.
  • If we did not know there was change fatigue within the organisation, then we deserve to have failed since we did not do our homework correctly: change fatigue is not permanent, it is something that creeps up over time, but early signs are easy to spot. In some respect, it can be easier to fail before you succeed as you know what to avoid and can design your transformation with that in mind.
  • Organisations often talk more about change fatigue than “readiness for change”: This vital phase is often overlooked because of the desire to go straight to action. In other words, people and organisations often confuse pace and precipitation.
  • Continue researching and we will also find statements such as “organisational change efforts are all too often unfocused, uninspired and unsuccessful.” So, if we look back and claim change fatigue to be the problem, then what we are really saying is that we failed, we being the leadership and transformation teams. 
  • What if this is the first time you’re seeking to transform your organisation? Well, you’re not alone – few organisations have carried out a sufficient amount of transformations to have acquired this as a core skill. A dedicated OPEX team is no guarantee of success either. In fact, many internally OPEX-led transformations fail because they are either badly positioned (too tactical and uninspiring – cost down, rather than value up), lack leadership engagement and/or lack leaders with experience of transformational thinking. A permanent OPEX team does not automatically mean you can expect to be permanently transforming a company.
  • More research leads us to the magical 70%, i.e. “70 percent of transformation efforts fail, often caused by change fatigue”. Rather than use this to justify failure, why not think in Pareto terms and realise that if we fix this we will be part of the 30% of transformation winners! Do we know of many athletes who tell themselves they are 70% likely to fail? ‘Change fatigue’ reflects a managerial mindset and culture that will be evident in organisational paradigms. “Whether we think we can, or think we can’t – we’re right”, as Henry Ford famously said. 

In conclusion, when organisations talk of change fatigue it is often synonymous of Einstein’s definition of insanity, i.e. doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Change fatigue is avoided when people continually see progress and seek to be involved. Positive change that impacts on the way people work, feel and think is energising, not fatiguing. As belief builds and ambition grows, the risk of fatigue reduces.   

If you would like to know more about how we help organisations can avoid change fatigue, have a chat with us at OPEX in Business Transformation later this year. 

In our next contribution, we will look at outsourcing and some of the reasons why it does not deliver the intended outcomes. Thank you for reading and feel free to provide feedback via email or LinkedIn