How to Avoid Change Overload

Blog 07-04-2021

It is hardly big news but the level of change is increasing. Any organisation that sits on its laurels does not invest in new ways of working or new technology may suddenly find itself being outshone by its competitors.

Change can take many forms: new business processes, departmental reorganization, mergers, and, of course, new technology. These examples of change relate to a person at work but there are other changes that affect people.

There is also personal change (buying a new house, a new child, engagement, etc) and also more macro changes, e.g. a new general election. Research indicates that there is only so much change that a person can assimilate at any given time. This ‘change bandwidth’ is used up by not just work events, but also by personal events and macro events.

How to avoid change overload
Change overload


Although I see many organisations that recognize the difficulty of implementing change and the need to have sponsors, change agents, and targets, there is less understanding of the need to monitor the level of change being directed at people.

It is important that for change projects to be implemented successfully, you must be clear about how much change you are trying to effect. If there is too much change and the ‘change bandwidth’ is full then you are likely to get significant disruption or stress.

One of the problems in monitoring the level of change in large organisations is that projects impacting on people can be initiated from different parts of an organisation. There may be a new HR Personal Development Review (PDR) process or a new CRM system to learn. Both these change examples may impact on the same people and use up their ‘change bandwidth’. These two examples may have originated from different departments, i.e.: the HR department (PDR) and the marketing department (CRM). These departments may not be aware that their change is being implemented at the same time as the other change initiative and both changes together may be too much to absorb.

Too much change at Head Office can cause stress or disruption, which is a serious problem for any organisation. However, when there is too much change being impacted on ‘revenue generating sites’, e.g. retail stores, restaurants, banks, etc, then too much change can have the double whammy of disruption and falling sales. In retail, for example, the store manager may be too focused on juggling the change that Head Office is imposing and not focused on serving his or her customers. For this to happen in a large retailer or hospitality company, ‘too much change’ can result in a significant loss of revenue.

What is the solution?

The solution is to first recognize that change must be measured and planned so that the ‘change bandwidth’ is not exceeded. This means having a central function that is measuring the level of change hitting departments and especially revenue generating sites.

When there is a realization that there are too many projects and change overload is about to happen, projects must be rescheduled to smooth out the change spikes and ensure that the bandwidth is not exceeded.

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