There is some confusion around the concept of change readiness and I want to help you understand what it means.

In this article, I am focusing on change readiness in organisations, but it is important to understand that change readiness also relates to individuals. You and I can be ready for change (or not ready) as an individual.

When we think of change readiness in organisations, there are four aspects we need to consider. Let’s explore them.

How ready are your stakeholders to succeed at the change process?

Of the 4 issues, this one is most often overlooked. A person’s capacity to succeed at change is a kind of strength (or weakness) – it is a kind of fitness for change. Some people handle change well – they are change fit. They are good at solving problems, they are tenacious and don’t give up easily, they are in there for the long haul, and you can count on their consistent support.

A person’s capacity to succeed at change is a kind of strength (or weakness) – it is a kind of fitness for change.

Other people don’t handle change well at all. Initial enthusiasm quickly dissolves. They are easily discouraged, quick to give up, and quick to tell problem-saturated stories. These people need close supervision and support to keep them going. That means they take up valuable management time and make the change process less efficient and more difficult.

It is obviously better if important stakeholders handle change well, but it is a problem to assume they can handle it well when they can’t. But understand what’s actually going on here. If you weren’t physically fit and you had to climb a steep mountain, you would probably resist. Not because you like making life hard for others, but because the task is too hard for you. You’re just not ready for it yet. When people are not psychologically ready for difficult change, it is quite natural for them to resist.

How ready are your stakeholders to champion the change?

Think of the word ‘champion’. The original meaning of the word related to how soldiers fight on the battlefield. How do good soldiers behave? Do run away from the fight when it gets hard? No, they stay committed to fight until victory is won, or until they are defeated.

Sometimes in organisational change the stakeholders are never champions, even from the start. They are never ‘on-board’, committed, engaged, and truly supportive. Sometimes, they might be committed at the start, but their commitment wanes when they get setbacks, or they listen to the wrong people. This happens more easily when personal change fitness is weak.

The extent to which your stakeholders are ready to champion the change is dependent on two things. It is dependent on their level of change fitness, and it is dependent on how well you sell the message about change. Your communication system needs to work effectively if you want to get the right people on board and keep them there.

How ready is your management team to effectively manage the change project?

Your change management team might be well versed in John Kotter and hold Prosci certificates, but don’t be too hasty in answering this question. It has 3 important aspects to it. There is the process aspect – if you want the change project to go smoothly, you must make all the right management moves. There are important processes to be done – the ones described in ADKAR and Kotter’s 8 steps. That’s one aspect.

A second aspect relates to how capable your management team is in working in emergent realities. What I mean is that managing change in complex contexts calls for leaders who are explorers rather than experts. You can’t tick all the boxes at the start because you don’t even know what they are. Leaders need to go in with their eyes open and be able to decide what is right to do based on what emerges from the context.

The third aspect relates to how capable your management team is at leveraging the change capacity of key stakeholders. To do this, they must understand the change strengths and limitations of their team, and individual members within it. They must have a good working knowledge of the change process and see the best fit between the demands of the change process and the change strengths of individual members.

How ready is the organisational culture to sustain the change?

It often happens that lots of money and effort are put into organisational change projects that appear to succeed in the short-term, but eventually fail in the long-term. It’s like winning the battle but losing the war.

This happens because the culture of the organisation is not ready to accept the change. People put up with change in the short-term because they have no other choice