Q&A with Changemakers, Nakeisha Brown and Hatti Johnston

North Highland is participating in the Association of Change Management Professional’s (ACMP) Texas conference entitled, “Building a Re-Imagined Future.” Nakeisha Brown and Hatti Johnston are eager to co-present a session they call, “How Much Change is Too Much Change – Finding the Way Forward.”  I recently had a conversation with them to learn more about their presentation and what’s happening in the industry overall. Excerpts from that discussion are below:

ACMP Speakers

What is change saturation and why should companies care about it?

Change saturation is the point at which individuals are being asked to absorb and embed too much change at any one time. This results in these individuals becoming overly stressed, confused, and disengaged.

Too much change at the wrong time has an impact on project outcomes, jeopardizing strategic initiatives that ultimately have an impact on the bottom line.

The pandemic has caused so much change in the last two years, what’s your approach for dealing with companies that know they need to change, but are wary of introducing more change to their employees – some of whom might be experiencing change fatigue?

Building an understanding of the company’s capacity for, and current level of change will enable the company to manage their portfolio of change to introduce additional change to the right areas of their business at the right time, to avoid change saturation in any one business area. In addition, by understanding the key drivers of a company’s capacity for change, companies can implement longer-term strategies to increase this capacity over time, making it easier to land continuous change in the future. Our approach to understanding and navigating change saturation is as follows:

  • Define the capacity for change
  • Identify the impacts of your projects and link them to the organization’s capacity for change
  • Design an approach for addressing the outputs
  • Test interventions and monitoring the saturation level

Some companies stay in a constant state of change, what are the common themes you hear from clients of these companies? How does North Highland help with these challenges?

We’ve consistently heard from clients that they had no easy way of seeing a consolidated view of the impact of all the changes happening across the business or whether that level of change was too much to be embedded at one time. What we have been hearing include:

  • We need visibility into the effects the change program/transformation is having on our business.
  • We need to know if we are putting the organization under too much change at once.
  • We need to know where the "tipping point" is so we don't reach it.
  • We need to determine how to prioritize projects and still be effective. 
  • We need to know if we are good at implementing change.

North Highland’s approach enables us to provide a clear holistic view of change impacts across the whole portfolio, comparing this to the organization's capacity for change. This enables decisions to be made around whether to reprofile the change portfolio, where to target increased change management interventions, and whether a longer-term plan to increase the organization’s capacity for change is needed. Ultimately, this will increase the adoption of change and reduce the negative impacts of change saturation.

Has the world of business ever seen as much change as it’s seeing today? Will this level of change become a new part of how companies operate to maintain a level of success and dominance?

During a year of COVID, where many companies have said they have done more transformation, most of it unforeseen, than ever before, there is a greater need to understand how much change is too much.

If companies are viewing coming back to the office as an enabler of transformation, it is essential to layer the impact of shifting to new ways of working with the changes driven by their planned transformations to avoid overwhelming their people and attrition. They can’t just pick up where they left off, they need to allow time for their people to adopt and embed the changes being asked of them as they return to the office or adapt to new ways of working.

Famous scientist, Charles Darwin, is often attributed to saying “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, but the one MOST RESPONSIVE TO CHANGE”. 

So now, more than ever, companies should care about how to best become responsive to change and avoid change saturation.

Give an example of a client that struck the right balance of change and chartered a path forward that was beneficial for the employees and the company’s bottom line.

We worked with an online retailer that was deciding to transform every function within its business, which had evolved from child to teenager mode. We assessed the change capacity of the organization and profiled the different initiatives against it. Using this approach, we identified a high level of capacity but there was too much change hitting the merchandising function at one time. As a result, we used this information to re-profile the initiatives moving the finance transformation out by a couple of months to allow time for the merchandising function to adjust. Additionally, we focused extra change efforts on leadership in the most impacted teams to help them to lead teams through change.
 

A few months ago, Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey found that some 26% of all workers expect to change jobs when the health crisis has subsided. Of these workers, 80% are concerned about their career growth. What can companies implement to stop the expected employee attrition?

The pandemic has opened new doors for the workforce to find work globally, meaning there is more competition than ever for companies to hold onto good talent. In this competitive marketplace, employee experience is paramount. To help combat attrition, companies must be cautious not to negatively impact this experience by landing too much change at any one time. Therefore, it is more important than ever to be able to identify how much change is too much change, and what to do when you hit that tipping point.

When addressing this, one size does not fit all (after all organizations and the profile of change they are affecting are inherently unique) but the good news is that there are several factors influencing capacity for change that we've researched and tested with companies. These factors range from considering the cultural aspects of an organization through to its demographic makeup and even sizing the amount of what we call 'background noise' – that is those changes that are relatively small and may not directly impact everyone but do create a distraction and take up space in an individual’s capacity for change, ultimately helping indicate whether you're at risk of exceeding your change capacity.

By understanding a company’s change saturation level, and managing the change portfolio and change management strategies accordingly, employee experience can be improved, enabling employees to absorb change more easily, freeing up their capacity to focus on excelling in their roles and growing their careers without the need to move to a new role.

Change Saturation gives you visibility of the change landscape and the organization's capacity for change. Learnings provide the ability to make better decisions, minimize risk, and increase adoption of change to increase your chance of success.

 

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Overcoming Change Saturation: How to Map the Change Landscape (Part 1)

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Overcoming Change Saturation: Making Space for Collaboration (Part 2)

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Overcoming Change Saturation: It’s All About Muscle Memory (Part 3)