What can you do when change is exhausting your teams? Premium

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The increasingly transitory nature of competitive advantage is forcing companies to reinvent themselves continually just to keep their heads above water. But perpetual change doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. How can companies find an effective balance between flexibility and stability? How can leaders limit the risk of exhaustion within their teams?


The roots of organizational fatigue
Innovation and projects are now of greater significance than business strategy, because the competitive advantage that companies gain through strategy is now necessarily only temporary. As a result, companies are trapped in a web of endless transformation and renewal. This instability translates into constant pressure on employees to be increasingly agile and prepared to deal with any type of situation.

Two risks: organizational chaos and burnout
Excessive change can raise costs, the probability of failures, and the risk of work overload, as constant change means individuals must constantly acquire new competencies, leaving no time to recharge. Exhaustion can plunge the organization into what the authors refer to as “the acceleration trap,” the tipping point where change stops creating value and instead merely results in organizational chaos and burnout.

The role of leadership in preventing employee exhaustion

Repeated change should be carried out with great care. Two priorities to keep in mind are:
– Planning: Before launching new initiatives, conduct a detailed analysis of the organization’s internal structure, figuring out, for example, the group’s operating speed, which stakeholders are most likely to be affected by the changes, the key influential players within the workforce, and so on.
– Prioritizing: Instead of wondering what new projects to initiate, reflect on what initiatives are not necessary. Then, come up with a strategy for deciding what changes to undertake and set clear, measurable, and collectively agreed-upon objectives at the beginning of each year.

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What can you do when change is exhausting your teams

Based on “The Acceleration Trap” by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges (Harvard Business Review, April 2010), “Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome” by Eric Abrahamson (MIT Sloan Management Review, January 2004), “Navigating the Politics and Emotions of Change” by Ellen R. Auster and Trish Ruebottom (MIT Sloan Management Review, June 2013), and “The Best Way For A Manager To Start The Year? Set Clear, Meaningful Employee Objectives” by Victor Lipman (Forbes, January 2013).
Business Digest nº 239, September 2013.

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Heike Bruch, professor of leadership and human resources at St Gallen university (Sitzerland) and co-writter of “The Acceleration Trap” (Harvard Business Review, April 2010) shares advices on how to manage organizational energy.