Change Fatigue is Unreal

The notion of “change fatigue” distracts our attention away from striving for better management, healthier leadership and more humane organizations.

Is “change fatigue” real?

I have to say it’s unreal.

The frequency, complexity, speed and uncertainty of change don’t just emerge out of nowhere. They are created by the leaders of an organization through decisions – ones that put the employees last instead of first.

In other words, change fatigue is often a camouflage that hides an embarrassing fact: organizations and their leaders rarely put people first, no matter how much they claim otherwise.

Only the symptoms described in the notion of “change fatigue” are real. Those are exactly the same symptoms as those of poor management, poor leadership or poor operation.

Is parenting hard? It is hard regardless of whether you think you’re doing it right. Do parents feel exhausted, burnt-out, discouraged or desperate at times? Of course. It’s just life’s bitter truth. Nobody talks about “parenting fatigue”.

Is innovation hard? It is hard regardless of whether you think you’re doing it right. Do pioneers feel exhausted, burnt-out, discouraged or desperate at times? Of course. It’s just disruptive progress’ bitter truth. Nobody talks about “innovating fatigue”.

Is organizational change hard? It is hard regardless of whether you think you’re doing it right. Do employees feel exhausted, burnt-out, discouraged or desperate at times? Of course. It’s just human organizations’ bitter truth. That doesn’t mean “change fatigue” must be real. Yet everybody’s talking about “change fatigue”.

Go look it up – what characterizes “change fatigue” is also what characterizes poor management, bad leadership, incompetent operations and even unethical practices – with angry, exhausted, burnt-out or disenfranchised employees, declining organizational performance, value or progress, as well as indifferent, immutable and self-indulging leadership.

If “change fatigue” is nothing new and is merely the expected bitter truth of organizations in a fast-changing world, then why are we so obsessed with it?

Perhaps that obsession is conditioned by people who benefit the most from the notion of “change fatigue”.

Who benefit from coining a new jargon like “change fatigue” then?

Consultants who want to sell their services of helping organizations change. “Design thinking is this shiny new thing that gives your org real innovation! You wanna do it? Pay us and we can help you!” “Change fatigue is this serious new problem that brings your org loads troubles, right? Right! You wanna deal with it for real? Pay us and we can help you!”

Leaders who need a convenient notion that diverts employees’ attention from poor management and bad leadership. “Look, up in the sky of troubles! Is it poor management? Bad leadership? Incompetent operation? No, it’s change fatigue!”

Academics who need a new theory to publish. “In this article we uncover a new phenomenon based on our research in…”

And maybe a few organizational theory enthusiasts who believe whatever the mainstream media echo accordingly. “Everybody is talking about change fatigue everywhere! It must be real!”

Despite all the good intentions, “change fatigue” has unfortunately become a notion through which–

  • Managers distance themselves from any mention of poor management;
  • Executives distance themselves from any mention of bad leadership;
  • Consultants distance themselves from posing challenging questions that executives don’t like to hear or respond to;
  • Academics stand themselves out from a sea of academic literatures;
  • Organizational theory enthusiasts boast about their intellectual development.

Go look it up – the prescriptions to “change fatigue” are also nothing new. There’s nothing that’s unique to it. There are neither new nor better approaches that have never been covered by the abundant literatures of management, leadership and organization.

Maybe Occam’s Razor applies here. Why on earth do we need the notion of “change fatigue”? I don’t know. Do you?

“Change fatigue” is a rather empty notion that misleads us away from the existential problems of power, empowerment and humane caretaking in organizations. It’s a status-quo-keeping explanation that’s biased towards the phenomenological problems of management.

Instead of obsessing with the empty notion of “change fatigue”, we’d better shift our focus to how we could shape organizations that actually put people first, nurture leaders who actually take care of their employees, and build thriving societies that are both diverse and inclusive.

Is “change fatigue” real?

It is not only unreal, but also useless.

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