Some thoughts on long-haul change efforts and creating a more sustainable, seasonal approach.
For years whilst providing coaching & mentoring, I have encouraged a cyclical, seasonal approach to tackling goals. Matching the overall energy levels & mood to how you are working on a challenge can help you to avoid burnout when driving hard towards moon shots.
Springtime as a period of new ideas, planning and other high-energy activities, convincing others, creating a movement, launching into new and exciting opportunities. All of these feel possible in a world bursting with new life. Capitalising and exploiting that early energy as we move into the long days of summer and anything feels possible. Harvesting the gains of our efforts through autumn, before reflecting, resetting and re-energising throughout winter.
During a recent client catch up, there was much discussion of energy (or lack thereof), a feeling that individuals have given their all and need to rest. When engaged in long-term transformation or change efforts, teams and individuals run high-level risks of burnout. It takes so much personal energy and influence to nudge the organisation forward, that change agents are some of the most vulnerable to overwork.
We’ve written before about some of the basic techniques change agents can embrace to ensure they are resilient, such as building networks inside and outside your organisation, embracing the power of small ideas and making continuous learning a regular part of life. But could there be more we could do to match our change programme tools and techniques to the types of energy and activity in a season? Could this help change agents create a more sustainable change practice? If change is going to be the only constant in organisations (a quick search for that famous phrase from Heraclitus is very telling), we owe it to our future selves to experiment hard.
Change techniques for right now
What kinds of techniques could we leverage in this season, where we are all feeling the effects of a long, challenging year? How can we ensure we are still moving our change efforts forward, without overloading the very employees and customers we are trying to help?
Approaching the end of the year is naturally a reflective time – change programmes can instigate very open and honest conversations with participants about what is working and what is not, with a view to starting the new year with clarity and alignment on direction of travel. One of the most important activities here is to challenge the existing KPI structure, and nudge towards embracing more meaningful measures. Something along the lines of OKRs, which allow and encourage more cross-functional exploration rather than keeping use in our own lane and encouraging teams to pull together rather than doubling down on their own performance.
Run a retrospective on the year – take all of the insights you have gathered all year, and reflect on how you have grown as a team! Revisit your team agreements, talk in broad brush strokes about how you’ve improved, delivered, dropped the ball. It can be very cathartic in processing team tensions as well!
Another important activity at this time of year is building more social fabric for the team – the social aspects of change work are often put to the side throughout the year so that the focus is on the doing of hard work. Our team bonds take a battering, we slip into bad habits, bend promises and take our colleagues for granted. Winter is a great time to repair and strengthen the team for what happens next!
Pull together, finish strong
Whatever you and your team decide to do – make sure you have the energy, commitment and drive to work on it together. Be kind to each other, encourage a firebreak to allow to team to catch up and process debt. And remember, change is for the long-haul, so prepare for the marathon!