You might not know why you would even need a change readiness assessment if you don’t understand what it is. In this article, I want to give you a general understanding of what a change readiness assessment is.
Readiness for what?
First, it is important to understand what we are talking about. When we say readiness to change, what are we talking about? Are we talking about readiness to begin a change project? Is it like being prepared to get started?
No, it’s not – at least not in the way we talk about readiness – and this is a really important point to understand. Change readiness is not about being ready to begin a change project: it is about being ready to succeed at the change process.
Different projects, same process
Change projects differ in their nature and intention, but they also all share something in common. They all share the same 5 steps of the change process. To succeed at any change project, you must be able to navigate each of these 5 steps. When you eventually get to the end of this 5-step process, you will have succeeded at the change.
So, whether the change project is personal – like improving your diet, exercising more, or changing a habit – or whether it is organisational in nature (M&A, cultural change, structural change, etc) you still need to navigate each of the 5 steps of the change process.
So, the question really is this: how ready are you (or your organisation) to succeed at each of the 5 steps of the change process? Because, if you’re not ready to do that, you’re not ready for change.
Change readiness is not about being ready to begin a change project: it is about being ready to succeed at the change process.
A common pitfall
It is risky to view change readiness in the wrong way – as if it were just about being ready to begin the change process. Sure, you do need to be ready to begin, but it’s even more important to be ready to succeed.
An important clarification
Now, it’s important to acknowledge something. Readiness to succeed is not the same as guaranteed success. Change is inherently risky, and success is never guaranteed. But you can be pretty sure that if you go into change without being ready for it, you are almost certain to fail. So, readiness for change is about stacking the odds in your favour – it’s about mitigating the risk of failure and maximising your chances of success. That said, let’s think about some specific issues.
You’re not going to be ready for change if you can’t answer the following 4 questions:
- What needs to change? – what different things do people need to do, or what things do people need to do differently?
- Why does it need to change? – what’s the problem to solve or opportunity to grasp?
- Who will this change affect? – who will be most affected by it, and who will have the most power over how well it goes?
- When does it need to happen? – how urgent is it? How much time do you have?
You also need to think about this question:
- How will you approach and manage the change? You need a game plan, but you also need to be flexible and able to respond well to whatever obstacles or opportunities that present along the way. You need a plan for how you will navigate each of the 5 steps of the change process.
Everything presented thus far is important, but this next question is the most critical of all.
- Do you have, or do you know how to acquire, the resources you need to succeed?
Some of the resources you need for success are very easy to see, like your finances. Is your budget big enough for the project?
But some of the most important resources are not so easy to see. Like the change fitness of your leaders and your team. Change fitness is not easy to see because it’s something inside people – it’s related to how they see the world and what they want at a deep level.
Change fitness is important in change in the same way physical fitness is important in sport. You can have the best coach in the world, the best game plan, all the right gear, and fantastic communications, but none of this really matters if your team is physically unfit. If they run out of steam before the end of the game, you’re very unlikely to win.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot in organisational change. All the preparations are made but the people who are most affected by the changes run out of steam before the change succeeds. What does this look like? It looks like disengagement and resistance.
Change fitness is important in change in the same way physical fitness is important in sport.
The cultural factor
Another hidden resource is organisational culture. If the culture is change-ready, it is like having a strong tail wind filling your sails and propelling you towards the finish line. But if it’s not, it’s like a wind blowing you off course and slowing you down.
Assessing the change fitness of your team often provides information about the organisation’s culture. It shows where the winds are favourable, and where they’re not.
So how can you tell?
How can you tell whether you are ready for change or not? There are some key indicators you need to look at.
First, look at the change fitness of anyone who has influence over the success of the project. This includes all the change leaders and anyone who is affected by the changes. If these people lack change fitness, it’s like having a football team that runs out of steam before the end of the game. This is not good, but you’re much better off knowing about it early rather than discovering it when it’s too late.
Knowing the change fitness of your team also helps you identify who has the strengths you need to succeed. Some people handle the change process better than others, and it’s better to know who those people are.
Second, check your communications. There are 5 key messages you need to communicate to build change readiness. Some people will pick up these quickly, and others will need to hear them repeatedly and in different ways. Importantly, if you don’t get these 5 messages across, you will add to your struggle with the change process.
Third, make sure your change management team have both strategic and tactical readiness to lead the project. They need the capacity to successfully navigate people through the 5 steps of the change process.
When should you start?
The best time to begin assessing change readiness is 3 to 4 months before you’re ready to begin a project. That way, you have time to work on any weaknesses that become apparent.
But maybe you’ve already started a change project and are having troubles. It’s not going well. Is it too late to assess readiness now?
No, it’s not too late, but you must act straight away. You need to collect critical data now. Critical data about your change readiness will help you make the right decisions about how to proceed.
Do you need any help assessing these 3 areas in your next change project? If you need any help assessing your change readiness, reach out to us at The Change Gym. We have the expertise and tools needed to assess all these areas.
Dr Steve Barlow is a change readiness consultant at The Change Gym.