Organizational change initiatives that are not properly managed have an unfortunate tendency to fail. The practice of Change Management has concerned itself with the complexities of planning, organizing, and implementing change initiatives to address this, but many organizations still find themselves with less than desirable outcomes despite access to Change Management’s theories, models, and best practices.
Understand this: the blame does not lie with Change Management. It’s simply too big a subject to condense in a single framework that works everywhere, every time. If we must use the Pareto Principle on managing change, we may find that focusing on that core 20% does get 80% of the results. We may also find that 80% isn’t enough or is prone to backsliding. A more complete view of Change Management is needed to get initiatives over the hump, as going beyond the more well-known parts of Change Management can be the difference maker.
One such difference maker is Change Readiness. In general, it is concerned with answering the question: “To what degree is the organization prepared for change?” In more detail, assessment methods are used to measure whether different aspects, parts, and capabilities of the organization are available, accessible, and sufficient to meet the needs of change.
Undergoing this assessment should help the organization do the following:
- Identify the risks involved with the change initiative.
- Incorporate mitigation of these risks into change planning and design.
- Decide whether to go through with the change initiative.
Is Change Readiness Assessment a Feasibility Study? – yes and no.
Outlined in this way, it might seem like Change Readiness is just another term for feasibility or viability, and in many ways, it is. Both try to identify risks then mitigate or outright resolve them in order to inform decision making. The fundamental difference between the two lies in the perspective on change success.
- Feasibility studies typically focus on justifying the costs and risks involved in a project by comparing them against the benefits of the outcomes, i.e. as cost-benefit analyses, explorations of demand and potential revenue, value of cost savings, etc. They take a resource perspective to defining costs, risks, and benefits.
- Change Readiness assessments, on the other hand, traditionally focus on the factors that could affect likelihood of success: the drivers of and obstacles to change implementation. Framing it this way allows for human and cultural factors to emerge as major considerations as well, i.e. change resistance, skills and learning needed, etc.
Change Readiness is as much a measure of confidence as it is a measure of means.
This distinction is made to show that while both have major overlaps, each also has a subtle uniqueness in perspective that is ultimately valuable to take into account. Marge Combe (2014), in writing a practice guide for the Project Management Institute (PMI), found this same combination of considerations to be helpful in assessing Change Readiness more holistically. This is exemplified by their three key drivers that impact readiness for change:
- Capacity – the availability, accessibility, and sufficiency of abilities, experience, and other resources needed to plan, organize, and implement the change initiative.
- Commitment – the political will for, emotional response to, and understanding and beliefs surrounding the change initiative.
- Culture – the values, norms, and practices: ways of working and being that can affect acceptance and acceptability of the change initiative.
There is more to Change Readiness than a single framework.
Just like Change Management (and perhaps every subject that deals with complex organizations), Change Readiness has its own range of models and approaches, different and similar to that of PMI’s. While that was an example of a model that seeks to be holistic, others may have a different, but no less valid, perspective. Here are a few examples:
- Boston Consulting Group (BCG) aligns their Change Readiness assessment with their transformation approach, highlighting readiness checks at each stage of the process. They take a by-persona approach to show readiness from the perspective of three entities: the leaders, the people, and the program.
- Napier et al. (2017) takes a similar approach to PMI, with readiness dimensions that include cultural, technical, process, and people. Slight variations in content and arrangement of the factors in the dimensions differentiate it, however.
- Rinne (2021) veers away from the other models that are change-specific in nature, choosing instead to examine how Change Readiness should be cultivated internally as a capability and practice.
Taking the most common elements of these myriad frameworks produces a shortlist of factors that can be arranged into three categories: Stakeholders, Supply, and Systems.
- Stakeholder incorporates “Skill”, “People”, and some “Culture” factors along the personas of Employees, Leaders/Managers, and the Project Team/Steering Committee/Change Board.
- Supply incorporates “Resource” and “Capacity” factors, latching onto Finance/Budget, Tools/Technology, and Workforce/Time.
- System incorporates “Process”, “Practice”, and some “Culture” factors, focusing heavily on Internal Communications, Training and Development, and Vision and Values.
Another underlying theme of the frameworks is the distinction between Capability (Can I do?) and Willingness (Do I want to?), which can also be applied to these factors. In this way, you can ask the following two questions repeatedly by substituting the underlined with the other factors in the categories:
- Is/Are our Vision and Values capable of implementing, supporting, or adapting to the change?
- Is/Are our Employees willing* to implement, support, or adapt to the change?
*Resources do not have the will to be willing or not, but those who control them sure do.
Holistic Change Readiness Assessments evolve how we use Change Management models.
Taking the time to understand Change Readiness is no replacement for more familiar Change Management models. As a difference maker, Change Readiness Assessments equip Change Management models for increased likelihood of success by making sure that application of the principles in those models is laced with perspective and nuance.
Let’s take two popular Change Management frameworks as examples:
(Content Model that answers the question “What needs to change?”)
Source: McKinsey & Company
Using McKinsey’s 7S model is one way to identify where change needs to occur. For example, use of the model might identify Strategy as an area with a sizable gulf between how it currently is versus how the organization needs it to be. A concurrent Change Readiness assessment might find that the leaders who are responsible for this strategy-making are very busy and often unwilling to participate in activities outside their core responsibilities. The Change Management strategy must therefore plan for a way to untangle the leaders from the availability and willingness limitations to even have a chance to address the findings on Strategy.
Kotter’s 8-Step Model
(Process Model that answers the question “How do we change?”)
Source: Kotter International Inc.
Using Kotter’s 8-Step model is one way to outline the to-do’s for the change initiative. Step 4 of the model is to “Communicate the Change Vision/Strategy”. This is always vital to any change initiative. However, a concurrent Change Readiness assessment might find that internal communications (or the official channels, anyway) are not reliable because employees don’t pay attention to them. In this case, Change Management strategy must adapt by using different channels, such as word-of-mouth via managers.
Measuring Change Readiness enables foresight and increases options.
In both examples, the risk mitigation position was taken, i.e. how to address or work around the lack of Change Readiness. There are some cases, however, where the lack of readiness is so bad that a different change initiative needs to come first, such as leadership development in the first example or communication systems development for the second.
Each example features insights that can be realized in the course of the change initiatives (after inviting the leaders for the first example and after sending out official communications for the second example). Some would argue that change strategy should just be nimble enough to adapt to unforeseen hurdles, but compounding obstacles leads to delay, indecision, and mistakes. Change Readiness assessments will not identify all potential hurdles, but it can definitely make them fewer and less prone to compounding costs and effects.
Does Change Readiness really make sense for you?
While the majority of this article has focused on the value of Change Readiness assessments in a general sense, it is always responsible to examine if it makes sense in context. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you want or need to heighten the impact of your change management strategies?
- Will the upcoming change be complex and/or involve different parts of the organization?
- Have unforeseen factors, whether material or intangible, been a cause of difficulty for change in the past?
- Would your organization benefit from investing in a more holistic approach to change?
- Do you want or need more clarity, visibility, or insight about where to apply your resources during change?
If the answers are mostly yes, then perhaps it’s time to consider Change Readiness assessment as your difference maker of choice.
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