The significance of readiness for change
Effectively managing change is one of the most critical challenges organisations and individuals face today. Although it’s starting to feel like VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is becoming more of a trendy, over-used acronym to describe our ‘new normal’ in 2022, the terminology continues to resonate in a world where we are dealing with continual social and economic shifts, and an increasing pace of change. With the amount of disruption we’re dealing with at the moment, however, we’ve seen something of a shift away from a mentality that centres around reducing uncertainty, towards an approach that recognises the importance of actively engaging with it.
In today’s world – and tomorrow’s – a strong capacity for change and the ability to both manage and thrive within an unpredictable environment will be key for continued successful performance, for an organisation and for individuals. But some of the challenges we face when it comes to adapting to change will be driven by how ready we are to embrace it. Readiness for change is a multi-level, multifaceted construct, and it has been consistently proven to be an important driver of change success – at both an individual and an organisational level.
What is Change-readiness?
As a construct, change readiness at the individual level, generally refers to a person’s beliefs, attitudes and intentions regarding the extent to which change is needed, and they believe themselves to be equipped to respond productively. Readiness reflects a state where an individual is both psychologically willing and behaviourally able to take action. At an organisational level, change-readiness is more of a shared psychological state, that focuses on commitment and efficacy beliefs. It describes a state where organisational members have a sense of shared commitment towards the actions required for implementing change, and have a shared belief in their collective ability (or efficacy) to implement the changes required.
Both change commitment and efficacy are consistently highlighted as key players when it comes to predicting what will happen when change is initiated – it stands to reason that the higher an organisation is collectively on these dimensions, the greater the likelihood of effective change. You could theoretically have one component and not the other, but because change implementation usually requires group effort, problems can crop up when some feel committed to and confident about the change, but others do not. Equally, individual change-readiness is consistently highlighted as one of the primary drivers of organisational change success. If an employee does not believe that change is needed or warranted, for instance, or is not committed to it, then the change initiative may ultimately fail.
People commit to change because they see a need for it, either due to incentive – seeing the good of the change – or consequence – avoiding a negative result if they do not change; however everyone’s reaction and level of readiness towards change will still be different. Our perceptions of change will largely depend on our individual beliefs, attitudes, and intentions, and these elements will have an influence on whether people decide there is a need for change, or whether they think their organisation is capable of implementing it.
Simply put, people and organisations need to feel ready for change before they can commit to it, and feel confident about successfully rolling it out. It would make sense, then, to ensure that you have a strong idea of your individual and organisational readiness for change before implementing significant change initiatives.
Change readiness assessments
There are numerous methods and tools available to assess the extent to which an organisation (and its individuals) is prepared for a particular change. By “prepared”, we’re referring to a current state analysis of the attitudes, resources and conditions that will allow change initiation, follow-through, and maintenance. Whatever assessment you use, it needs to analyse the organisation at multiple levels in order to be effective. You’re looking to assess not only whether various audiences feel committed to and confident in making the change, but whether they see the value in the change, and whether they feel supported in making it.
Measurements of change readiness are both objective and subjective. Typically, you can assess:
- The scope of the change (e.g,.. the department, number of employees impacted, type of change, feasibility measures, risk assessments, technology/support resources, processes, physical resources, etc); and
- Organisational and individual factors (e.g.,. motivation, attitudes, and culture; knowledge/skills/abilities; current and historic levels of change; resources and capacity; leadership capability; understanding of the change; value alignment/perceived value, etc).
If change is complicated, there may be more factors involved in its implementation. The more data we collect about an organisation’s readiness for change, the easier it will be to design a change plan that is tailored and scalable, and ultimately more successful.
There are several ways in which we assess an organisation's existing resources, conditions and the attitudes of all relevant stakeholders and affected employees. I tend to recommend some combination of surveys, data and analytics, one-on-one discussions, and focus groups (where appropriate). With all subjective measures, the intent is to assess individuals’ understanding of the change itself, perceptions of the organisation's readiness for change, how individuals perceive the change, and its impact on them personally.
The other crucial element to consider is how well-supported your people feel to implement the change, by either their immediate team and leader, their organisation, or their personal emotional resources. You can assess this through customised survey measures, but tools such as The Adaptability Quotient assessment developed by AQai allow you to directly measure perceptions of team support, company support, adaptation capacity, and work environment factors that can facilitate change. For example, you may have a highly resilient, confident team that can clearly understand and articulate the need for a particular change; but if they do not feel supported in taking action towards it, their overall levels of commitment to the change could end up taking a hit. Alternatively, if they do not feel as though the organisation facilitates and encourages self-disruption, rapid experimentation, and regular adaption, how confident are they likely to be in the organisation’s change processes overall?
Employees who are change-ready hold a sound understanding of the change and why it is important to the organisation; they are confident in their ability to implement the change; and they have a willingness to accept and participate in the change. Change readiness can be improved by understanding what barriers there might be to implementing change, and how we can go about addressing them. In the example above, it would be important to ascertain why the confident, driven team did not feel supported to make the changes they were looking for. Do they see sharing new ideas as risky? Do they believe mistakes are held against them, or are they comfortable raising problems and challenges? Is transparency encouraged? This could then be the perfect time to run a focus group to facilitate robust and targeted discussions. Once our data has more depth, we can design interventions to dismantle those areas of change resistance in a more targeted way. In such a talent scare market, and with concepts such as ‘quiet quitting’ – sometimes known as ‘working to rule’ – keeping team members actively involved and positive about change is critical to attracting and retaining the right people and having them wanting to participate in driving the success of your organisation. What change/s do you have coming up, and what have you done, so far, to assess Change Readiness?