Change Capacity – 3 reasons why Executives won’t say no to more change.

by Mar 15, 2023

Last week I was running a change leadership development program and was asked by one of the participants: “Why is it that Executives won’t say no to more change when its obvious the organisation is at capacity?” 

It’s a powerful question and one that needs to be considered among the discussion of change capacity and change capability.

In the last blog post I talked a little about how change capability can reduce the cost of poorly led, designed and executed change. 

This post is specifically directed to the C-Suite, your Exec team, and your Board. 

Change capacity describes how much change you can take on at anyone time without negatively impacting the health of your people, the performance of your organisation, the reputation of your brand.

And it’s a REALLY BIG problem. A HUGE problem.

Too much change is costing your people a lot – poor mental health, chronic illness, stress claims. It’s costing your organisation is lost benefits realisation, more last minute project resources, and poor reputation.

And this is caused by Executives and boards refusing to reduce or slow down the volume of change in the organisation. 

There are MANY many ways and tools to measure change capacity – excel spreadsheets, teams spending time on data entry, SAAS based platforms to show you fancy change pipelines, radars, roadmaps. And they are mostly a very big waste of time.

Because often as not, the C suite, group executive, maybe board member –  look at them, say “oh my, we have a lot of change going on, jeez, gosh, ok then” and then move on to the next point of the agenda.

In the history of the many companies I have worked with, the hundreds I have had direct conversations with, the 1000s that I know of through members of my change community, there is a tiny tiny percentage who actually does anything about the problem when presented with the data, namely, slow down or stop a change. Stop several changes.

Prioritisation meetings can be considered largely theatre of the absurd.

So why are you struggling with saying no? I think there’s three main reasons – and they are all very valid and rational. But if we don’t acknowledge them we can’t change the situation.

1) Profit over people is an insidious fundamental of a capitalist society.

You, me, we, have been part of this system for a very, very long time. In this case though, Capitalism exists through the exploitation of resources – natural, industrial, and of course human. However, like all systems there is a point of failure, a point of diminishing returns within a capitalist system. And when you are so enbedded in the system its difficult to see you have tipped over to a dysfunctional and unsustainable outcomes. Like oxygen and water, too much exploitation of resources can kill you. It’s a false dichotomy, when you are over capacity change wise, your profits drop. Profits through people is a more helpful systemic shift.

Question for your executive team / board: What is our tipping point? How do we know when we are there? Is it a near miss with the Workplace Manslaughter legislation? A significant increase in insurance premiums for workplace stress / health claims. When your head of change or people and culture come to you and say we’re at capacity, what is the data you need to believe them? 

2) There is a seductive discourse around the transformational leader.

Operational leaders who embed stability and efficiency rarely make the front page of the business press. Many of you crave that level of adulation. That’s human. Reward and recognition is natural. Overdone its harmful.

Question for your executive team / board: How are you rewarding efficiency and stability?

3) Saying no when everyone else is saying yes, takes courage and can be career limiting.

Most conversations about psychological safety focus on you making it safe for YOUR team to voice dissent. Very rarely do we hear of how to create psychological safety at the most senior levels. These can be a very dangerous space to navigate politically. Power is weilded in both brutal and surgically precise ways. You saying yes to more change is logical and preserving of your career.

Question for your executive team / board: Where is there evidence it is ok to say no to more change? 

 Assuming you must say yes, what can you do – well yes, change capability and change resilience are two areas to build. They’re the basis of good change experience in any situation and will not take you backwards.

But I’ve made this clip intentionally short. How about you share this link internally with your senior leadership and prompt a conversation about how you can change the theatre of the absurd to a data informed discussion that results in great outcomes for your people, your profits and your customers?

If you want me to drop into an Executive team meeting and facilitate the conversation let me know. It would be my pleasure. 



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