What is the critical factor indicating the organisation is ready for the change?

This is a great question but before we delve into an answer, let’s stop for a moment and think about ‘the change’. The change (whatever it is) must be a response to a problem (either something is wrong, or there is an opportunity to grasp).  The change could be anything – new IT solutions, new markets, new business processes, etc.

Whatever ‘the change’ is, it will probably succeed or fail because of people. Computers do not complain if they are replaced, nor do business processes. But try to change how people work and you may encounter resistance.

Behind resistance, there may be fear or other emotions, but the real difficulty is learning and unlearning. To change, people need to learn new things and unlearn (some) old things. This might involve changing habits, changing beliefs, changing identity, changing locations, changing colleagues, changing expectations. It may involve new accountabilities, new motivations, and the challenge of learning new ways of thinking and behaving.

Change is hard because of the learning and unlearning involved. And it’s even worse because organisational change usually involves adults. And it relates to how people make a living. Many adults find formal learning stressful because they don’t like being compared to others, they worry about not being good enough, and they have concerns about implications for their jobs. Putting all this together, changing organisational environments are usually stressful for people.

Changing environments probably challenge all people, but we know some people handle them better than others. Why is this so? There could be many reasons for this, but all these reasons are enablers. They support people.

A key enabler specifically related to changing environments is called ‘change fitness’.

So, if we ask, “why is change fitness important in organisational change readiness?” the answer would be, “Because it’s a key enabler that helps people learn and unlearn in changing environments”.

But now let’s look at the initial question from another angle. We have already looked at change from the problem angle. Now let’s look at it from the process angle.

To successfully make ‘the change’, people must engage in the change process. The change process is a pattern of behaviour that leads to success with change. I call this The Success Pattern. However, here we can encounter some problems, because many people aren’t familiar with The Success Pattern, and they aren’t very good at it.

Why are they not good at it? Because they are in short supply of that key enabler for success – change fitness.

The Success Pattern (change) can be very demanding – psychologically and even physically (stress, frustration, failure, anxiety, etc). The more change fitness people have, the more likely they are to handle these demands and succeed at change.

So, is that all people need for learning and unlearning? Are change fitness and knowledge of The Success Pattern all that is needed for success? No, there is one other thing that is also important – Organisational Change Readiness.

People working through an organisational change need to engage in The Success Pattern (they need the right approach) and they need change fitness (the capacity to be good at The Success Pattern). But the broader organisational context also needs to be ready to support them. It must draw upon the people’s change fitness strengths, and mitigate any risks posed by their limitations.

So, let’s summarise here. We are addressing the question, “What is the critical factor indicating the organisation is ready for the change?”

“The change” is a problem needing a solution. But success or failure rests largely on the capacity of people to enact the solution and this means they must learn and unlearn in a stressful environment. To do this they need change fitness.

Enacting the solution means people must engage in the change process. They need to understand what this process looks like and they need change fitness to be good at it. And they also need the organisational environment to support them and to scaffold them.

So, there is not one critical factor indicating change readiness. There are 3 of them:

  • Do the people know how to follow The Success Pattern?
  • Do the people have enough change fitness to succeed?
  • Is the organisation ready to support its people through the change process?

I have tried to give you a broad overview of how I conceive of organisational change readiness. It emerges from contexts where these 3 factors come together – The Success Pattern, personal change fitness, and organisational change readiness. I refer to this trinity as ‘agility’. 

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at steve@thechangegym.com.