Prevent change saturation by establishing air traffic control for change management

This blog post was authored by Jeff Klabish - Director, People Advisory and Organisation Change on The Protiviti View.

The big picture: Managing organisational change can be a difficult process regardless of the economic climate. Having multiple initiatives that require participation of several of the same employees is a breeding ground for burnout and employee attrition.

  • Projects often ground to a halt.

The best approach: By establishing a center of excellence to manage change — similar to an air traffic control tower — organisations can identify people needed for a project and ensure they have the bandwidth to complete it successfully.

  • Alternatively, the COE could issue a “ground stop” on an existing initiative to optimise engagement in more critical efforts, particularly during a crisis.

Go deeper: Read our insights below.

Imagine that a company is undergoing a digital transformation, preparing for an initial public offering, and implementing a new human resource hiring and training regime because of rapid growth — all at the same time. Each of those initiatives likely will require numerous subprojects that themselves will require the participation of several of the same employees.

Such a situation is a breeding ground for burnout as people feel torn in different directions and find it difficult to advance specific assignments or meet certain goals. In a worst-case scenario, employees could engage in quiet quitting or jump to a different organisation.

An organisation’s ability to remain agile in the face of change is critical for growth. When faced with disruptions such as hybrid work, supply chain difficulties, and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence and technology innovation, successful organisations respond by implementing new tools, processes and procedures geared toward taking advantage of benefits or mitigating risks brought about by the changes. Too often, however, such projects multiply quickly, overwhelming and paralysing stakeholders responsible for carrying out the initiatives.

When overwhelmed by change, people tend to engage in projects sluggishly or not at all, with the expectation that initiatives will simply die — as they often do — particularly in organisations prone to flavor-of-the-month projects. Projects that don’t die on the vine may drag on endlessly and suck valuable resources from more critical tasks. In response, organisations and employees become resistant to change, threatening their ability to adapt and thrive, especially in uncertain and tumultuous times.

One of the best ways organisations can avoid engulfing individuals in too many competing initiatives and ensure that projects are progressing is to establish an organisational change management center of excellence (OCM/COE) that operates like an air traffic control tower.

Air traffic control tracks planned flights and monitors flights in progress, manages capacity of the airport to ensure there’s room for arriving planes, and issues ground stops if the airport can’t handle incoming traffic. An OCM/COE provides a similar function, but with a focus on organisational projects. It keeps existing projects on track, reviews initiatives in the pipeline, identifies key stakeholders, and evaluates the availability and capacity of personnel to take on the new initiatives. This information is used to guide project scheduling, from when a project should start to when it should end, with key achievement dates identified along the timeline.

For projects that require team members who already may be overly engaged, the OCM/COE effectively may issue a ground stop on an existing initiative or on new projects to optimise engagement in higher-priority efforts, particularly during a crisis. The OCM/COE’s responsibilities also include assessing the strategic value of various competing projects to prioritise those that are most critical.

Combating Change Saturation

The goal of the OCM/COE is to prevent resistance to change by minimising change saturation — an imbalance between how much change is happening at the moment and how much change employees can process while still functioning effectively. Change saturation can cause an organisation’s financial performance to suffer due to a host of inefficiencies, from additional but unnecessary costs related to a project that can’t quite cross the finish line to the inability to address more profitable endeavors.

How the center of excellence is organised and where it resides depends on a company’s structure. Typically, change management professionals populate the function, which in turn reports to an executive committee or the board of directors. The center of excellence also may be connected to an existing program management office that is overseeing the technical aspects of various initiatives, with the OCM/COE focused on individuals impacted by those initiatives.

Optimising Resources

By establishing an OCM/COE, an organisation in the midst of multiple important projects can more effectively control and channel resources needed to run those projects. The OCM/COE could implement a schedule that emphasises five initiatives and puts another five on the back burner, for example, based on the capacity and potential change-saturation point of the key participants. Alternatively, it could even stop cold an existing initiative in order to optimise engagement in more expedient efforts, particularly during a crisis.

These actions would help remove any confusion or disagreement between executives and employees regarding which projects should be prioritised. Then, when one project successfully concludes, the center of excellence would release certain individuals to return to work on a paused project or other initiatives.

Managing change can be a difficult process regardless of the economic climate. But when the amount of change overwhelms employees, it can handicap important projects — or worse, send them to the graveyard. By establishing a center of excellence to manage change, organisations can more effectively identify the people needed for a project and ensure that they have the bandwidth to complete it successfully. This will not only curb change saturation but also keep the company’s growth strategies on track.


Adam Johnston
Adam is the country market lead for Hong Kong. With over 15 years’ experience, he has spent much of his career consulting to Fortune 500 organisations, helping them solve complex transformation, and resourcing programs and projects. Adam’s specialisation is ...
Patrick Pang
Patrick is a senior director in intelligent automation and digital services with over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. He has extensive knowledge of various business domains in retail and commercial banking. He has 15 years of IT project ...