Pundits tell us that the world is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It’s the VUCA gospel. Under the banner of “innovate or die,” massive transformation projects are being kicked off constantly. Executives around the world scramble to reorganize and reinvent their organizations, only to reorganize and reinvent them again.
It gets worse, consider a 2014 report by PwC that revealed 65% of respondents in corporations complained about change fatigue, 44% of employees complained they don’t understand the change they’re being asked to make, and 38% say they don’t agree with it. A more recent study by Gartner in 2020 found that propensity for change fatigue doubled during the pandemic.
Executives, wanting to be seen as dynamic leaders, are launching too many initiatives, very few of which lead to positive impact, while at the same time the rest of the workforce struggles with increasing mental health challenges. The answer is less, not more. We need to focus on fewer initiatives, with more commitment to ensure their success.
Why Change Fails
It’s a familiar story we’ve seen time and time again. An ambitious new leader comes in and launches a transformational initiative. There’s a kickoff meeting and a massive internal communication campaign to rally the troops for the multi-year program. Consultants are hired and employees are told, in no uncertain terms, they must get on board.
Two years later, the leader moves on, having sold another company on the myth of his transformational leadership. Another, equally ambitious executive comes in with their own idea for change. The old initiative is dropped, there is a kickoff meeting, an internal communication campaign, consultants are hired and employees are told to get on board.
Rinse and repeat.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. But let’s face it, there is a tendency to glorify the kickoff more than genuine results. Part of this is cultural and part of it reflects other trends. An excessive adherence to quarterly benchmarks puts too much focus on short term impact. Combine this with a general decline in executive tenure means that leaders often leave before transformation projects can be completed.