Dealing with change saturation

17 January 2017
author picture Article written by Vincent Halluent

Dealing with change saturation: people come first.
We have all been there. Urgent calls to make changes lead to multiple programs running alongside and dozens of deriving projects piling upon each other. Charting roles and responsibilities turns into a messy process, producing even messier results. Any new initiative pushes previous projects aside. Some get stuck, others simply fall into oblivion. All in all, this casts a shadow on the company’s commitment to effectively implement new changes. Team members develop a wait-and-see attitude and before they even know it, leaders find themselves facing even more trouble: insufficient returns on investment paired with increasing delay. 

Needless to say, repeated situations of the sort create a poor track record which makes any new transformation more difficult to deal with. Turbulent and exciting in equal parts, the new era we have entered calls for resilient and adaptive organizations. Fear not. With a clear focus on the “people” side of change, CM can help detect and tackle saturation issues early on.

“Stability is now what happens between two periods of instability”. Turbulence has become the norm. 
Change comes in different shapes and sizes, ranging from the simplest with its easy-fix, to the more complex. Events like strikes might be difficult to predict but coping mechanisms already exist in the form of standardized procedures and routines. Changes are increasingly chaotic, transverse and more disruptive than ever since we experience them for the very first time [i.e, terrorist attacks, persistently low interest rates …]. Fortunately, some of them are positive adjustments (but no less disturbing) driving growth and resource deployment [i.e, acquisition, digital market...].  On a general note, contemporary changes occur back to back and often leave social entities in the most dreadful organizational void. 

With more intricate transformations occurring faster than before, leading the change becomes a matter of moving smoothly through major and overlapping “transitions”. Leaders know all too well how disruptive this extended time frame can be as they often correlate drops in performance with the depth of change. Change saturation occurs when the number of changes exceeds the capacity of an organization to absorb them. The crux of the problem thus lies in detecting and suppressing bottlenecks.

Change management in a context of saturation. 
As a rule of thumb, organizations should be less concerned with determining which projects are impacted than with monitoring affected groups and teams. The question then becomes how much change does each team or target group [sales, back office or production] have to deal with at any given time. The graph below provides a visual representation of saturation through the lens of “target groups” (bottlenecks are marked in red).


No improved process or technology will ever deliver satisfying results in the long run if changes are not embraced by the people at each level. Leading the change is precisely about getting everyone on board, turning leaders into active sponsors, helping managers to become thoughtful interlocutors and providing front-line teams with change and project management tools. 

Success relies on speeding up the adoption of changes and creating a critical mass that utilizes new operational models and behaviors. Only a robust methodology and efficient tools such as those developed by our partner PROSCI can help deal with change saturation. They allow identifying priorities not only in terms of costs but also of resources across the organization and from the perspective of “target groups”. Reducing saturation levels thus means alleviating pressure on most affected groups. For contemporary organizations, change management is not an option anymore; it gives them a real competitive edge.

People come first. 
As the saying goes, most people don’t like change, only wet babies do (Mark Twain). And when it is considered as the lesser of two evils, even fewer people are willing to change themselves. Building the envisioned future takes individual shifts in behavior as much as careful planning. It is therefore crucial to develop skills at each level of the organization, starting with the people who drive the change and making them change managers, a profession in its own right. Anyone who needs convincing of this only needs to take a quick look at LinkedIn.  Improving those skills across the whole organization ensures that each and every member tolerates more (inevitable) changes in the same period of time, thereby reducing the saturation effect. Organizations per se do not change, so start with the people.

Upcoming article: The art of managing in uncertain times.

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