Avoiding ‘change paralysis’ and negative productivity impacts

From decades of experience delivering complex, global change programmes, Able and How have identified a silent barrier to business productivity, says Director Paul Arnold. The role of people in change is fundamental to business success, he asserts.

Many organisations, teams and individuals consider themselves paralysed by too much change: ‘never ending change’, ‘change fatigue’, and ‘too much change at once’.

However, when we dig deeper we often find that some, if not most of the change they’re talking about doesn’t affect them directly. They are aware of change programmes, have heard about them, but won’t necessarily be impacted by them. It is noise, not reality. Teams and individuals in these cases are not paralysed by change, but by the perception of change.

That paralysis plays havoc with productivity. Teams and individuals are distracted at best, wilfully unproductive at worst, as they wait to see how the changes will play out in their world. This can turn into a long wait where little is done or general productivity is eroded.

Leaders can play a critical role in addressing these issues.

Team and functional leaders have privileged understanding of change programmes, through planning and budgeting processes, company briefings or through contact with company-wide project teams. They can accordingly filter the changes. They can ensure their part of the organisation understands which change components are relevant to them and communicate accordingly.

This filtering is an essential leadership role. But too often leaders fall short in this responsibility. Instead of sifting through announcements, they pass on the communications, memos and briefings unedited. This creates perception of a greater change load than is the case. And this can affect productivity directly and greatly.

Leaders need more support from their organisations to understand the demands change programmes place on them, in particular this underrated and underdeveloped filtration role.  If this is addressed, then productivity should be impacted beneficially. Organisations stand to gain by making their leaders ‘change filters’.

*The Year of Disruption follows on from our very successful Years of Digital (shortlisted for an Association Excellence Award), Growth and Diversity. For more information, please visit the Year of Disruption specific hub.