Welcome to 2013.  I put a shout out a week ago or so to find out what topics regular readers wanted in this year’s blog posts. The first one offered up was change readiness – specifically how you measure it and what do you do about it.  I thought it was a great topic to start the year. Here’s my thoughts on it.

Change readiness was initially defined as ‘the cognitive precursor to the behaviours of either resistance to, or support for a change effort’ (Armenakis, Harris and Mossholder, 1993, p.681). Today the construct at least at a practical level has come to include considerations of organisational support as well, so not just “will they”, but also “can they” (eg do they have the skills, knowledge, resources, training, infrastructure, assets). You can have all the will in the world and be emotionally and intellectually supportive of change, but without the resources and capability you are simply not change ready

Twenty years since Aremenakis et al  seminal paper “Creating Organisational Readiness for Change”  in Human Relations, Rafferty, Jimmieson and Armenakis, (2013) have published “Change Readiness: A Multi-level Review” . For those wanting to dive deep I would highly recommend getting into this. The review primarily focuses on the cognitive (thinking) and affective (feeling) responses to change (so the “will they”) and not so much on the factors that result in the “can they” . For this Weiner’s (2009)  “A Theory of Organisational Change Readiness” paper is useful.   – What they both point to is a lack of multi-level attention to change readiness. Change readiness occurs at an organisational level, a group level and an individual level and also in practice while the organisational and group level is often addressed, we see individual readiness to change neglected.

I prefer to focus on change readiness rather than resistance. In some ways it presents as way to do the Lewinian force field analysis  eg are the forces for change greater than the forces against change? I think when you focus on change resistance that’s all you will see. And for a whole host of reasons which I will explain in a later post, I think change resistance has limited use to change practitioners.  However, by focussing on change readiness and you shift the energy a little bit.

In practice – it’s measured in a number of ways – full blown quantitative surveys, pulse polls (short series of question to take the pulse of the change), pulse checks – (checking in with change networks as representative of the audience), focus groups, and manager assessments. Done well, this data provides you information on how, where and when to intervene to improve the likelihood of success when the change goes live.

In about half of my change engagements the change readiness assessment is aborted. The reasons being:

  • The organisation has survey fatigue
  • There is no time or resources to do anything about the results
  • Leadership is uncomfortable with hearing if the audience is not ready

This is a real shame. Because one of the hidden benefits of a change readiness assessment is it is a form of engagement and opportunity to reinforce the key messages of the change.

In a recent project where there was resourcing, time, and political understanding of the importance of the activity we developed an audit tool to assess the business unit before go-live.  The tool listed a series of practices which were known to either hinder or help the change once implemented with a 5 point scale.  It provided a scoring scale eg what your score means, and a contact point to return the audit. The business unit leaders were asked to rate their business unit on these practices.

To be honest, I expected the business unit leaders to inflate the responses – I didn’t mind that. Even if they were scoring themselves a 5 (when the real practice was lower) by thinking about the question they were being reminded of the key practices that needed to occur and saying to themself (Oh boy, we are going to need to change this!) But the answers came in quite honest and realistic. This enabled us to consolidate the results by business unit and provide the change leaders with a focus on where to intervene with coaching / workshops / discussions on the changes to occur.

In other projects I have been able to include a communication audit with the activity and provide critical information on understanding of the key messages and what has missed the mark, so it really is not an activity to be done in isolation.  In crafting the change readiness activity make sure you review what you want to do with other key stakeholders. You may be able to get more bang for your buck!

But over to you – what experience have you had with change readiness? Would be most keen to hear.

 

 

9 Comments

  1. I have a change readiness survey which I have used over a number of years. The question is always whether you are asking the right questions and as change is multi-faceted there are likely to be many I miss (with the balance being you don’t want an over large survey or nobody does it). One of the main benefits of it is actually to get managers thinking about the change and their role in it. By focusing on past change, how it was handled, their experience of change (formal/informal), the organisational experience of change (formal/informal) the managers realise that something different is expected of them. This opens the opportunity up for important conversations.
    It is also very useful if I can survey across layers of the organisation as I often find that managers don’t realise they have a different view of change than others. This again creates an opportunity for conversations that wouldn’t exist before.
    So all in all its a good tool to get managers thinking and that allows the change agent to start off with more open management minds. It prepares them for the training in leading change that I like to give and open their minds to the idea of change readiness training that I like to give for the staff i.e they see the need to consider the emotional aspects of change which they would not have done if I hadn’t surveyed (because most managers see change as all about process and not about emotions).
    In summary the surveying for change readiness does not in and of itself change anything, but it opens the door for change readiness activity that deals with readiness at the individual level across the whole of the organisation and sets up an better understanding of individual and emotional needs.

  2. Jim Bright says:

    We published the Change Perception Index in 2005. Details are available about the test and its use in change management in our book, The Chaos Theory of Careers (2011) – http://www.amazon.com/The-Chaos-Theory-Careers-Twenty-First/dp/0415806348/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1358942916&sr=8-1
    (Currently in two seperate Amazon top 100 and Top 40 lists)

    The test is available online via http://www.jimbright.com

    The test measures 10 dimensions of reaction to change from a complexity perspective – including , continuous change, need for control,non linear change, radical change (phase shifts), Emergent change, Bigger Picture, Goal Drivers, Role Drivers, Routine Drivers and Change Drivers.

    The test has good psychometric properties (also reported in the Career Planning and Adult Development Journal) and has applications in change management, coaching, rehabilitation and other contexts

  3. Hi Martin and Jim — thanks so much for your comments.

    Martin – I agree whole-heartedly with your summary — in my experience every time there has been time and resources to do change readiness interventions post survey, the change goes so much sweeter! I like your approach of asking the manager to think about their role in change as well.

    Jim – thank you for your contribution as well, this looks like a really robust set of characteristics to measure. For those reading and unfamiliar with academic conventions, good psychometric properties are a way of saying the survey measures what is meant to measure and can be trusted.

  4. Anthony Stevenson says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I like how your blog also mentions the “can they” aspects of readiness. I’ve seen change templates as part of an approach/methodology that focuses only on the “will they”. Without sufficient skill and capability uplift, individual readiness could typically be reflected in the “will they” surveys but that could be due to people knowing that they are not properly prepared in a technical sense.
    Also, it is imperative that a change is synchronised with the other changes that are usually going on in an organisation. Unfortunately, I’ve been in a large organisation recently that was unable to step back and see all the changes going on. This created an environment of the programs doing what they had to do but the changes were in effect being done in silos but ultimately affecting the same groups of stakeholders. It is important that organisations establish strong program governance, risk management protocols and have an executive level function that is keeping the chess board pieces all moving to the agreed strategy (hoping that there is one :)
    In this way, both the will they and can they aspects start to merge and the business becomes ready to embrace its own ordained change.

  5. Ron Koller says:

    Jennifer,

    I’m so thrilled you blogged about this. In the middle of my consulting career (started in ’93), I’m adding a PhD, studying commitment to change, so I’m very familiar with the research you’re citing.

    Also, I must say that while I absolutely love Dr. Armenakis and all of his contributions to the field. I am quite puzzled by the difference between the Rafferty/Jimmieson/Armenakis model and the Vakola/Oreg/Armenakis model. I’m not a fan of change readiness, however, I do think the way you’ve portrayed the concept in your post is much more palatable than I see in the literature.

    I prefer the older model with “reactions” to change because I think it is more accurate. Academia seems to be overly obsessed with prediction. In these fast paced times, “what will be” and “what is” are not separated by the gulf that existed years ago when Ajzen formulated his theory of planned behavior. Though Rafferty/Jimmieson/Armenakis added a sentence to specify that change readiness is different from intention (Ajzen), it looks a lot like it conceptually, i.e. Armenakis defines readiness as “beliefs, attitudes and intentions …” and Ajzen’s model is too similar for me to be able to throw out intention (http://people.umass.edu/aizen/tpb.diag.html).

    Anyhow, great post. You’ve provided a “better way” for me to think about this work and to get over the mental block I experience whenever I look at that article. I experienced your post as a way to think about this kind of work in an appreciative inquiry light. However, I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water … resistance (when not defined as anything bordering mental illness) is a real part of the journey to commitment (in my humble opinion).

    Thanks and take care,

    Ron

  6. Ron and Anthony, thanks so much for your comments

    @Anthony – such a great point. Readiness in context of the change radar eg you may be willing and able but absolutely swamped…

    @Ron I’m with you in that reactions are how I see responses to change and ultimately not so useful in paving a way forward. I’m delighted this has been of assistance — and you are right, I am very much influenced by positive psychology. But I’ll pick up on that on the next post on resistance!

  7. Joe Gardiner says:

    Hi Jennifer – great post and great comments. Agree that the open and regular dialogue between the change practitioners & the change audience can greatly improve chances of successful change deployment. And as @Anthony called out the governance/syntonisation aspects are prudent. An example of where I’ve seen this been done well (UK banking group rapidly preparing for an IPO of insurance arm) has involved change/project managers working with business readiness partners, comms and HR partners, all working to mobilise and communicate the change: with clear project ‘parcels’ of delivery and accountability, and weekly tracking and a weekly dependency forum to link all the rapid change together and de-risk crossovers (that was my role!). Linked back to this was a formal business readiness change R/A/G go/no-go process which had meet minimum standards prior to implementation. Cheers,
    - Joe

  8. Harry Cannon says:

    Great blog and discussion. Never liked the term ‘resistance’ as it’s just people telling you they are not comfortable for whatever reason, that you need to discover. That said, change is only painless for the mindless. @Joe, like the formal business readiness decision process.

  9. Joe and Harry – thanks so much for dropping by and leaving your thoughts, it’s appreciated. Joe — really appreciate your example, sounds like it was the ideal case of how change management and project management work well together. Harry — you’ve just inspired me with a new change activity to “decrease resistance”, more change meditations!! Introduce some deliberate ‘mindlessness’!!

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