Given the hectic pace of change in most organizations, my client conversations about leading change have evolved. Where clients once called me for advice about leading through a specific change, now we’re talking about how to lead through multiple ongoing changes – and how to do so in a way that helps staff remain resilient for additional changes still to come.

To be clear, even the most resilient teams will get frustrated, anxious, or tired at times. Resilience isn’t some superhuman state that shields you from these normal human emotions. Resilience is, quite simply, a way of interacting with yourself through the intense ups and downs in the world around you.

At first, it requires building enough awareness to recognize and name the low periods, then making a conscious choice (again and again) not to go with fearful or anxious thoughts that are habitual. The choice instead is to take a deep breath, accept what you and your team are feeling now (not forever), and then figure out together how to support each other through these times, knowing that you’ll be doing it all over again when another low appears.

It’s become common for organizations to keep expecting their people to do more with less under the guise of continuous improvement or creating efficiency. I don’t disagree with the underlying intention to save money and create a competitive advantage, but it’s ludicrous to think that people will magically be more productive when given less support.

It’s a setup for multiple under-resourced change efforts that end up creating apathy, frustration, and burnout across the workforce. In other words, change fatigue.

I know a lot of people, myself included, who look in the mirror some days and see the perfect definition of change fatigue staring back at them – a look that says, “I’m already too busy to manage it all.”

In fact, how often do you hear “busy” when you ask a coworker how he or she is doing? How often do you say it yourself? These days, I hear “busy” as shorthand for:

  • “I’m just plowing through to reach the goal(s).”
  • “I’m tired but don’t want to slow down because I might lose momentum.”
  • “I am nervous about not being busy because others will think that what I do doesn’t matter that much.”
  • “I keep busy so I don’t have to think about, feel, or deal with things I would notice if I wasn’t busy.”

Being busy isn’t the problem. There is a place and time for being busy, and for the emotions that go along with it which can motivate us as needed. The problem is that “busy” has become a constant state, the new normal baseline, and is wearing people out.

How to build resilience and prevent change fatigue

To help you and your team build resilience, there are three simple actions team leaders can take:

  1. Setting a clear expectation up front that the change will naturally shift over time

The increased pace and rate of change in organizations doesn’t just throw more new changes at us – it affects how often those changes end up shifting once they are underway, which also adds to fatigue. Ashley, a client who was tasked with leading a team through a particularly complicated, multi-year transition, summed it up with humour: “We are changing our change, and this change will probably change again!”

Ashley brought up a great point, which leads to the first action: setting a clear expectation up front that the change you’re undertaking together will naturally shift over time, especially once things get started. These shifts are normal and not necessarily an indication that there is a problem with the change itself.

Ashley spoke with her team when she introduced the change, specifically letting them know that they would probably shift directions several times along the way. She said that being flexible as unexpected internal or external obstacles came up would be a sign that they were doing things right. Only if issues were not addressed quickly would there be a problem.

Setting this kind of expectation, and then keeping the lines of communication open and asking team members to share any obstacles they encounter along the way without fear of retaliation, will help to reduce frustration and other emotions that can lead to change fatigue.

  1. Identifying the work that team members enjoy doing and then having them continue doing that work

The second action most leaders don’t leverage enough when leading change is helping their team members identify the work they enjoy doing and having them continue doing that work in the future state.

If this is such a great strategy, why aren’t more leaders using it? What gets in the way of helping team members identify and do work they are good at? For one thing, many of us were taught through culture or family that it is arrogant to acknowledge what we’re good at. This becomes clear whenever I ask someone to make a list of all the things they’d like to improve about themselves or the things they consider weaknesses. Off they go, easily listing item after item.

In contrast, when I ask the same person to list all of their strengths, or what they appreciate about themselves, they often stall out after about six items. Offering them some prompts like, “What would your pet say about you?” is always good for an additional three or so, but you get my point here. We’re not naturally comfortable acknowledging our strengths.

People need to accept that it’s not only okay to name what they’re good at and enjoy doing, but that it’s scientifically proven to benefit their well-being.

The next thing you need to do is identify strengths, which you can do by naming those work activities that you and your team really like doing, then figuring out how you can still do them in the new future state, even if it will take time or be done differently.

Then, once you have a better idea about the activities or tasks that the team will need to stop, start, or continue doing, bring the team together for a specific discussion about how your particular change impacts them doing the activities they enjoy most. If they can see that you’re there to help them to still do these activities, they’ll be more likely to engage with the change, less likely to experience change fatigue, and more likely to make any behavior changes that are needed.

Partnering with your team to discover, agree, and align on what they need to do on a day-to-day basis after a change can be so much easier if everyone can see themselves in the future state, doing the things they really like to do.

  1. Celebrating large and small wins along the way

The last action that helps build resilience and reduce change fatigue is celebrating large and small wins along the way. If I was going to map out the connection between celebrating success and building resilience, it would look something like this:

Recognition for great work + Feeling good and optimistic about wins along the way = Building resilience

As an example, my client Ashley and her team decided that they were going to have short “Good News Wednesday” team huddles where they take 20 minutes on Wednesdays to discuss what’s working, and also recognize how team members have helped each other and the successes they have had in relationship to the change.

Even if employees have made a mistake, a “success” includes a team member’s ability to raise the issue quickly and any learning that comes from that experience, even if it was a tough one. Trying something new, even if it’s not going well, is rewarded, as opposed to being rewarded for doing something perfectly, which is more likely to keep people motivated to do things the “old” way.

When it comes to recognition, ask each team member how they like to be recognized. Some will like to be recognized in public, while some may prefer a private conversation. Celebrations can also be multi-team events, where you join other teams to spread the joy, allowing for internal networking and silo-removing opportunities.

Remember to take as much time to appreciate successes as you would take trying to understand why something went wrong. You could ask: “What do you think made the difference in your success?” “Who else contributed or collaborated with you?” “What do you think we can build on from this success?” “What did you learn from this win that we can preserve and repeat?”

Even if you (or your team member) can hear a faint critical voice coming through, reminding you that you’re not doing it right or there is still plenty to fix, that’s okay. Tell yourself, and them, that this celebration is real – you are celebrating what’s true. There’s enough difficulty, fear, and irritation to go around, so give yourself and your team members time to enjoy the full benefits of feeling good, which is the best ingredient for resilience.

About the author

Dr. Elizabeth Moran is an experienced leader, consultant and executive coach, who is passionate about helping teams and organizations successfully navigate and evolve through change. Partnering with leaders and teams from Fortune 500 companies to technology start-ups, Elizabeth has successfully supported large and small-scale transformation through practical advice and actions that simplify leading through change. is one of the world’s largest online resources for small businesses, providing essential tools and resources to start, grow, and manage your business. brings you real-world expertise and practical advice from some of the best minds in small business. To learn more and subscribe visit

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