Trucks at Work

Facing off against change fatigue

Trucking is going through an awful lot of change right now, driven by both external events – namely a great wave of regulatory initiatives – alongside internal directives such as saving fuel, boosting driver pay, even engaging in more merger and acquisition activity.

Yet this “grinding, continuous volume of change,” which is seemingly now the everyday pace across many industries, may be wearing out frontline employees, noted Tyler Durham, partner and president of the Ketchum Change unit within global communications firm Ketchum – and senior executives may be blind to such “change fatigue” he stressed.

"Dynamic business environments and a culture of continuous change is the new normal for large organizations, and it's only going to accelerate," he explained in a new report compiled by Ketchum based off a seven-country survey of senior executives at large corporations.

"Employees don't have time to adapt to one change before the next one is upon them,” Durham added. “The challenge for leaders is to drive change in ways that energize and empower people and ensure their organizations are prepared both culturally and operationally to embrace change as opportunity."

According to Ketchum’s new Liquid Change Survey – which polled 513 high-level executives in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands at companies employing 10,000 workers or that generated $500 million or more in revenue in their most recent fiscal year – many senior leaders are “unaware” of the effects of change fatigue on their workforce, even as their employees struggle to keep up. Among partners and C-suite executives, only 28% think change fatigue is highly prevalent in their companies, Ketchum found, compared to 41% at the director level, and 47% at the senior VP and VP levels.

"The survey tells us many top-tier leaders don't recognize the exhausting effect that continuous change and volatility has on employees and how that exhaustion can lower employees' productivity, reduce their engagement and damage retention rates," Durham emphasized. "And if leaders aren't aware of it, they will be unprepared for its damaging effects and the resulting costs on their business."

He said Kethcum’s survey indicates that to succeed in an environment of continuous change, a different and more collaborative approach must replace the old top-down “command-and-control” leadership model.

Outlining a clear strategy and goals (43%) and engaging with leaders across the organization to co-create the new environment (41%) were cited as the most effective ways to get leaders to believe in and actively lead through change, Durham noted.

“Looking at the results of the study overall, it becomes clear that companies that manage change effectively have a more positive outlook on their future and good communication across the organization is key,” he stressed.

Other findings from this Ketchum survey include:

  • Pioneering behaviors, such as being an innovation leader relative to peer companies and seizing upon new ideas, are key drivers of business outlook and ability to thrive through change
  • Conversely, organizations that experienced highly prevalent levels of change fatigue were significantly more likely to cite the following as challenging:
    • Economic climate (72% vs. 31% at companies that feel change fatigue is less prevalent)
    • Political climate (72% vs. 22%)
    • Risk adversity (72% vs. 23%)
    • Gaining input from across the business (69% vs. 26%)
  • People working in general management were less likely to see change fatigue as highly prevalent at their organization than those in human resources, organizational development or communications

Ketchum’s poll also discerned that “four behaviors” seem to be essential for corporations to successfully make change more manageable for their workforce:

  • Transparency: Communicating with clarity and authenticity across borders, with “decisive action” and “personal presence” displayed by senior leaderrship;
  • Pioneering: Promoting curiosity and experimentation, and supporting risk-taking to break through and innovate;
  • Dialed-In: Creating strong connections with internal and external stakeholders, embracing fearless listening and fostering co-creation;
  • Agile: Driving forward through passion and resiliency to seize and act on opportunities in real time.

Now, certainly, a lot of this may seem a wee bit too “new age-ish” for trucking. But the pace of change affecting this industry only poised to accelerate, it’s at least good food for thought in terms of how to minimize the impact of change on a labor pool – especially where drivers are concerned – that’s getting more and more difficult to refill.

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