Re: Change Fatigue

Charles Smith (
Tue, 5 Aug 1997 20:36:30 +0100 (BST)

At 11:20 4-8-97 +1000, you wrote:
>Dear people, A BRAIN-PICK.
> One of my graduate students (not a psychologist but a Management
>type) is interested in a work-group which has for some years been
>undergoing experimental and more or less chaotic changes in all directions
>at once.
> She has an idea which seems intuitively (and experientially)
>reasonable that people who keep having demands made on them to see things
>differently to how they saw them yesterday, again and again, in no single
>direction but of unrelated kinds, even if the changes are none of them in
>themselves too enormous, will eventually find it too much for them; she
>makes an analogy with metal fatigue - such as caused those Comet airliners
>to go pop in my youth.
> It struck me that this was just the sort of thing pcp people might
>well know all about. Any references please?
> I must confess that answers to this will not shut me up, because I
>have some more MBA students who might find themselves helped by pcp ideas
>and I'll ask on their behalf too. Well, it does all make the field KNOWN -
>and in areas where there's money to be got!
> With thanks in anticipation, Harry Oxley
>Harry Oxley


I'd like to understand better the extent to which the people in your
student's work group really see things differently. It's my experience, as a
change practitioner in industry, that workplace understandings have a large
degree of stability. Significant individual change can come in response to
major structural reorganisation or ideological change, but this takes time
and hard work. Multiple unsustained change initiatives have little personal
impact. A company I know well recently engaged in empowered improvement
teams, delayering, major structural change and privatisation all at the same
time, and still had little impact at the working level. In engineering terms
I would call this an isolation system rather than fatigue.

For a reference I suggest Tony Watson's book "In Search of Management:
Culture, Chaos and Control in Managerial Work" which describes, using a
basically social constructionist framework, the sense-making of managers in
a company undergoing successive takeovers and 'initiatives'.


Charles Smith