Organizational Change: When Is Enough Enough?
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Innovation and adaption in organizations is necessary to survive, but these changes don't need to be constant. When in doubt, ask your employees. No change will succeed if employees are burnt out, experiencing change fatigue, or simply have no idea why a change is being implemented in the first place. If you have their buy-in, go ahead. If not, hold off. Simple as that.
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What is organizational change?
If we are going to explore what it means to have too much organizational change, we need to all be on the same page about what it is. In short, it's the process of making changes in and to an organization. That broad definition seems simple enough, but the options, methods, and potential complexity of those changes are limitless. Changing a department's scheduling software, improving the employee experience, and reworking hiring processes all fall under this. Anything and everything that changes falls under this. It's a lot.
The one thing every one of these changes hopefully has in common? It makes things better. Whether the goal is to make work more efficient, have lower turnover, or increase profits, every change ideally has some objectively positive outcome in mind.
Change for the sake of change
It is not uncommon for workers to be subjected to radical changes just because the higher-ups like radical changes. You know those days where you come into work and see an email from the CEO explaining that everything is about to be turned upside down and you'll thank them later? Now, sometimes these changes are good, well thought out, and will be successful. However, this often is not the case.
While there is no definitive way to tell which changes are worthwhile and which are spontaneous and conceptual at best, there are a few red flags.
No Clear Reason Why
With any worthwhile change, the person(s) responsible for deciding on and enacting the change should be able to clearly tell you why the change is happening. There should be a clear purpose with a clear end goal and a list of benefits which this change will provide. If these answers don't exist, change regularly, or you get a different answer from everyone you ask, there probably isn't great foundation for the change.
This is your first hint of it being change for the sake of change. There's nothing wrong with constantly striving to evolve your organization, but each evolution should have a reason behind it and a vision in front of it. If you don't understand why the change is happening or what benefits it will provide, you won't know when the change is done, whether or not it is effective, or if all the time and money spent was worth it.
The only catalyst is a new book
It cannot be overstated how many times an organization has decided to change everything company-wide because of a new book the CEO read. Of course, this isn't just books. Blogs, Ted Talks, theoretical concept papers found on the internet - anything can serve as that "AHA!" moment to inspire sudden and drastic change.
There is nothing wrong with that. Inspiration can strike from anywhere and new information can rewire our brains and make us reconsider a lot of what we previously thought.
Much like wanting a clear purpose, if a single source of something is the inspiration, you should be clear on exactly what it is about that book (or otherwise) that inspires.
Good to hear: "This sparked new thoughts and helped me close gaps in goals I've been wanting to accomplish but didn't know how."
Concerning: "This organization sounds awesome. Let's replicate what they do."
If a new book does create the desire for radical change, do your homework first. Read even more books. Reach out to those organizations mentioned and ask questions. Talk to your own employees to see if they think this other organization sounds better.
Don't burn your organization down over a single book. Instead, use it as the kindling and build from there.
This has happened before ...
In some instances of announcing organizational change, the employees won't be excited or hesitant. Rather, they will just be annoyed and frustrated. This is often because it isn't the first time this has happened. This can occur in a few different ways:
It's a change that has been implemented in the past, failed, and now we're trying again.
It's incredibly similar to changes that have been tried multiple times in the past, all of which have failed.
The actual problem of past changes was never resolved and this new change also doesn't address the root issue, so it is guaranteed to fail.
When To Stop Making Good Changes
So, your company has successfully implemented positive changes. You had a clear purpose, you accomplished your goal, and your organization and employees are all better off because of it. Now what?
Well, you could continue making change after change to work out every last kink in your operations until you have the perfect workplaces. But there will be time for that. You are in this for the long haul, so there is no rush. If you want to make changes but aren't sure if you should keep going, there are a few things you can do to get your answer.
Ask your employees
The last thing you want to do is cause your employees to experience burnout or change fatigue. You could have gone through a big change that everyone loves and is grateful for, but that doesn't mean it was stress free. Your people might want a break. First, ask them if they would like/need a break. Second, ask what they would like/need to be able to recover. That might be a 6-month hiatus from company-wide changes, or everyone getting a few extra vacation days. Your people know best what they need, so just ask them and let them choose. That way, you will also get a break from having to figure out what to do next!
Make a list
Improving is always good. Resolving issues is always good. Innovating is always good. But again, you don't need to do all of it right away or all at once. Try creating a list of all the things you would eventually like to change. Between large changes you can do smaller, easier things. You can plan for the future with a roadmap of your goals. You can let employees know in advance what to expect. This will further concrete the fact that you aren't making changes for the sake of change - this is a well thought-out plan.
Is there a need to change?
Often times, there isn't even any real need for change. Remember above when we discussed the importance of having a clear reason behind every change? If you don't have an explicit and impactful purpose, goal, and benefit, you probably don't need that change right now. Perhaps the change you want just sounds cool or would be nice to have. Regardless, if it won't tangibly improve anything right now, or if the benefits don't completely outweigh the risks, just hold off.
This is normally where the conclusion would be.
Replacing tradition with efficiency is kind of our thing.