The Importance of Timing when Implementing Change

Too many changes

For many employees, change is upsetting, and it’s not surprising that they tend to resist it. Furthermore, too many changes at one time can create a state of change fatigue, which can significantly increase the intensity and duration of the upheaval employees experience and delay their adjustment to any given change. Therefore, how receptive they are to a given change may depend at least in part on where they are in terms of their adjustment to other changes.

For example, the transition of a team to a new methodology may be more protracted and turbulent if team members are still in the throes of ramifications caused by other changes. It doesn’t matter whether these other changes are colossal ones, like a major merger, or less impactful ones, like a move to the other side of the building.

In fact, in the face of these other changes, employees’ emotional ties to the old way of doing their work may even be strengthened. Rather than welcome the new methodology with enthusiasm, they may try to grab onto the old methodology and hang on tight.

What this suggests is that if you are planning to start a complex project, introduce a new tool, or undertake any other major initiative, and employees are still reeling from other recent changes, it may be wise to delay the planned change if you can. On the other hand, if employees have adjusted well to recent changes or have a high tolerance for the ambiguity associated with change, they may be better able to adjust to the next change.

Of course, as in Dilbert’s organization, you don’t always have a say about what will change and when. The timing of some changes is dictated by budgets, business cycles, availability of resources, regulatory mandates, and other factors over which you have no control. And sometimes, the timing of a change effort is driven by when the change must be completed, such as by the end of the fiscal year. I have a friend who’s in the Halloween costume business, so clearly, his peak selling season drives his entire business.

Even when you have a say about the timing, you shouldn’t necessarily defer all change efforts until employees have reached a state of stability from prior changes. Let’s face it: In most organizations these days, upheaval is the norm. But by being sensitive to the matter of timing, you may be able to minimize the turbulence employees experience, and that will be to your benefit as well as theirs.

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