"How much change is too much change?" is one of the most challenging questions an organisation will confront. For business leaders charged with a set of strategic priorities, successfully activating the necessary change is the make-or-break factor for success. To maximise the value of change and transformation, we must make sure that we avoid overloading people with too much change at once while evolving continuously to remain relevant as an organisation.
To answer this crucial question, we started researching the topic of change capacity about a year ago and discovered several factors impacting capacity for change. Yet, we did not uncover insight into how all the efforts across an organisation’s change landscape fit together. In other words, many companies lack a streamlined, single view of all change happening at any one time, mapped against its aggregate capacity for change.
What do we mean by change saturation?
The simple analogy of a cup filling with water can help to illustrate the principle of change saturation. The cup represents the capacity for change, and the water represents the amount of change occurring across an organisation. When there is too much change, the water fills up and overflows the cup, marking the change saturation point. The risks of change saturation include employee stress, confusion, and disengagement, all of which diminish the outcome of strategic initiatives and the bottom-line through:
- Loss of productivity: Unmanaged or poorly managed change disrupts the workforce’s ability to be productive. When employees are pulled in too many directions, they lack an adequate amount of time to adjust between impacts.
- Loss of quality: When employees are pushed too hard and lack clear direction, the foundation of consistent, quality delivery is under attack, diminishing overall performance.
- Loss of resources: Competing changes can increase costs and reduce employee mindshare, ultimately delaying project progress. Also, we have found that change saturation results in employee attrition.
How do we assess change saturation?
To mitigate these risks while helping the organisation transform more readily for an uncertain market climate, we take a few key steps:
Assess core factors. We first assess the organisation against the research-driven factors that can influence its capacity for change (or, by our analogy, the size of the cup). These factors include:
Apply impact assessment. We then conduct a rapid and consistent impact assessment for an organisation’s projects, helping us identify and quantify the amount of change happening (or, in our analogy, the volume of water poured into the cup). There are many factors that we evaluate to determine impact. A few of these include:
Use the Change Pulse tool. After assessing both the business’s capacity for change and the impact of all the change underway, we then link the two together using our Change Pulse tool. Anchored in observed and tested patterns from organisations across industries, this proprietary tool runs on a formula that connects change capacity and impact. It helps change leaders visualise whether an organisation is at risk of reaching its change saturation tipping point.
From insights to action
Where the Change Pulse tool has identified a risk of change saturation, there are three possible courses of action we recommend. Often, organisations will opt for a combination of these interventions to bolster change capacity and limit the negative impacts of change saturation:
- Reprioritise: Consider opportunities to reprofile the projects taking place to reduce the change impact, increasing the likelihood of realising benefits.
- Mitigate: Limit the risk of change saturation by designing change management solutions to increase readiness and spur adoption.
- Focus on capacity: Identify the factors that you can target and improve to increase capacity for change.
To realise your strategic aspirations, your organisation must embrace change more readily, while limiting the risks and detrimental impacts of too much change. Above all, it’s crucial to view change capacity through the lens of continuous, ongoing improvement. By monitoring change saturation levels and employee response to change, you can fine-tune your approach and more effectively strengthen change capacity over time. If your organisation is tapping into change saturation insights to inform its transformation journey, we look forward to continuing the dialogue