Liquid Change: How Organizations Can Overcome Change Fatigue

In a not so distant past, change professionals would learn from business leaders that change was cyclical within their organizations (one or two per year), and each cycle had a beginning, middle, and end. In response, we would craft a multi-step, linear plan to help guide clients navigate that transformation – inevitably celebrating its conclusion when the benchmarks established were met. Back then we talked a lot about the need for people in organizations to “embrace change.” And for the most part, they listened.

As time went on we noticed that change within organizations began to accelerate. As a result, existing change management plans would be derailed when another, equally sizable change concurrently hit the company. A second insight began to crystallize: professionals within these companies were getting exhausted and depleted with the ever-increasing pace of change. The idea of embracing change was now met with sheer incredulity and, in some cases, fear.

The evolution of what we call Liquid Change is the culmination of a two decade-long journey of research, countless conversations with colleagues, leaders and clients, and the experience of helping organizations around the world reach their business objectives through change management. And it is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of Ketchum Change’s new Liquid Change Study.

This notion of “change fatigue” was born and confirmed by the results of our study when we learned that 74% of over 500 respondents said that change fatigue exists within their companies; with 39% reporting that it’s highly pervasive.

What’s even more alarming is that the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down. That thought doesn’t energize people – it exhausts them (click to tweet). The old models of finding a clean and logical path through change aren’t working anymore. We need a different way of thinking about change, one that acknowledges that it is a constant, non-linear, and complex reality.

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You need only look at the recent tombstones of some iconic companies to understand that even historically prosperous organizations that fail to embrace change die. And leaders know that their ability to thrive through change is no longer an option. Our study found that 95% of respondents reported that effectively managing change is critical to a business’ success.

We now know that change is truly a state of being, not a series of organizational events. Based on this, we believe successful organizations will develop what we like to refer to as “change muscles.” A set of attributes, which strengthen over time, that enables them to be “liquid” – flexing quickly to capitalize on changes within their culture and marketplace. Based on our collective experience helping organizations lead and thrive through change, we identified, tested and confirmed through our study’s findings, the four characteristics that make up a liquid organization.

1. They are transparent, and leaders within them communicate in a human way

2. They are pioneering, and encourage taking risks to stay ahead of the market

3. They are deeply dialed-in with customers, consumers and employees, and listen carefully to them

4. They are agile and flexible, and can turn on a dime to capitalize on opportunities

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Click on the above image to download our Liquid Change infographic!

We now have quantitative verification that focusing on these areas of change really does work, and that building change muscles will diminish change fatigue and facilitate better business outcomes. More importantly, having engaged in dialogue with a multitude of leaders to talk about the idea of Liquid Change and to co-create the topic with us, we know the idea resonates, and gets them energized and optimistic about change again.