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.