Organisational Change Readiness Assessment
By Mark Vincent
Our ability to change rapidly at an organisational level is an increasingly critical capability, regardless of sector or organisation type (private, public sector, NGO etc). If this were in any doubt, the past 2 years have certainly brought that idea into sharp focus. For organisations, change needs to happen in order to stay relevant and to continue delivering a compelling value proposition. For the people within, the way change is handled can have a dramatic effect on their health and mental wellbeing. The good news is that when done right, change can deliver rapid value for the organisation whilst also contributing positively to the wellbeing of the people involved.
So how do we hit that sweet-spot? That’s where organisational change readiness assessment can be our guide.
An organisational change readiness assessment examines how prepared stakeholders are to accept and adopt change, taking into consideration data at the individual, team and organisation level.
Weiner’s A Theory of Organizational Readiness for Change (2009) argues that “organizational readiness is a shared psychological state in which organizational members feel committed to implementing an organizational change and confident in their collective abilities to do so.”
A change readiness assessment seeks feedback on a range of dimensions, mainly internal to the organisation, but external dynamics may also be relevant. Combe (2014) notes that the readiness of an organisation has three key drivers: culture, commitment and capacity. An assessment can examine the status of these and how favourable they are to change in an organisation.
Ideally, all key stakeholders within the organisation are assessed on a change readiness scale. This may be done via an interview on a small scale, or via questionnaires when the change affects too many people for individual interviews to be conducted with everyone. When individual assessments are collated, we get a picture of readiness at a team level and again at a division or organisation level. This can help us to identify hotspots where gaps are not isolated but exist across much of a team. Equally, we have visibility of strengths, for example, teams or departments which are highly receptive to change.
Why is an organisational change readiness assessment important and when should I use it?
Having a good understanding of an organisation’s readiness for change puts us in a position of strength. It means we can tackle issues before starting any change rollout. If we get this stage right, it will significantly increase the likelihood of successful change
There is truth in the saying “Forewarned is forearmed.” This is not suggesting that change management is a battle, but simply that we can use the information we discover from our assessment and ensure we have tools at our disposal to manage any issues identified. If readiness is found to be high, we can move straight to implementation in accordance with the project plan. However, where readiness is found to be low, we need to add in an extra phase, to address the gap and prepare for the project delivery. This period needs to be built into the overall change schedule. It is not part of the core project plan, but a period of time needs to be allowed to achieve the required level of readiness before the project can begin.
If we don’t take the time to assess readiness beforehand and address any readiness gap identified, we are far more likely to experience difficulties at the implementation stage. This can be a major contributor to the failure of a project.
A change readiness assessment should be carried out prior to any major change programme, and ideally before smaller projects too. The smaller the programme of change, the quicker it will be to conduct the assessment, as we would expect fewer people to be impacted. However, in all cases, it is a valuable exercise and is a step we should not overlook simply because a proposed change is smaller scale.
The timing of the assessment is important. Assess readiness too far in advance of the planned changes, and our information may start to become out of date and lose relevance by the time of implementation. This is particularly pertinent in sectors that have more transient staffing, or where external factors change rapidly. On the other hand, conducting an assessment too soon before the programme of change will mean that we may not have enough time to address the issues identified from the assessment.
How does change readiness relate to change management?
Change readiness is an integral part of change management. Without a change readiness assessment, we cannot know whether an organisation is prepared for change or not. When an organisation is not ready for change, it is inevitably going to be more difficult to introduce new ways of working. In some cases, this may result in failure to implement and embed changes. Studies tell us that the majority of change projects fail, with as many as 70% not delivering or sustaining the intended outcome.
Herscovitch and Meyer (Commitment to Organizational Change: Extension of a Three-Component Model, 2002) found that the three-component model previously developed by Meyer and Allen, could be applied to change management. The study identifies three levels of commitment to change:
- Affective commitment: the change is valued by the individual
- Continuance commitment: the individual feels no choice but to implement change
- Normative commitment: change is implemented out of a sense of duty
Ideally, we bring as many people as possible into affective commitment as part of our change readiness preparations.
In some situations, we may also be interested in the change readiness outside the organisation, such as the readiness of our organisation’s customers. This might be applicable where we are keen to push change outwards rather than responding to customer demand. For example, if we want to drive more customers to use a mobile app to engage with us, instead of more traditional methods of interaction. This may be organisation-driven because it is the organisation that will enjoy the primary benefits, such as cost reductions. Usually, the customer is likely to benefit too, and the change management work will need to include communicating to customers a compelling reason to make the changes we want to see. When it comes to gauging customer readiness, we may want to set up focus groups to assess their willingness and capacity to change.
What should a change readiness assessment focus on?
The major components of organisational readiness include:
The first stage in preparing an organisation for change is communication. Even if there are restrictions for operational reasons on when particular people or departments can be informed, it is essential to have a plan which covers communications to all stakeholders.
We know from Kubler-Ross’s Change Curve that acceptance of change is not immediate. We need to allow time for people to pass through the phases of the Change Curve:
Even when we know that change is needed and we understand why some of us will still be reluctant to alter the way we do things. This may vary by personality type. There is comfort in the familiar, and for some of us moving out of that comfort zone can be challenging. Others may thrive on the excitement of change and may get restless when things remain the same for too long. These people are easy to win over, and they may be able to assist in convincing others to accept and adopt new practices.
Past experience of projects not being managed well, or of projects failing completely, can make people wary of change. There may be concerns that the effort spent on the new project will be wasted if it fails as previous ones have done. Similarly, if change has been implemented, but has not had a positive impact on some people, it will be harder to convince them to buy into more change programmes. These issues are not insurmountable, but they do need to be managed with care and sensitivity in order to deliver a new project successfully, as well as for longer-term enhancement of motivation in the team or organisation as a whole.
No matter how receptive the stakeholders are to the idea of change, it cannot be successfully implemented without the required capacity to do so. Resources must be in place to support the project, including budget, skills, and time. Reviewing current capacity may highlight a training gap, or it may identify that a team critical to the implementation is already overwhelmed with work, and will need additional staffing in order to deliver change effectively. Assessing capacity for taking on change allows us to identify gaps and gives us the opportunity to take corrective action so that all stakeholders have the resources they need to deliver the change programme as planned.
At an organisational level, a readiness assessment should also consider any external constraints which may present barriers to change readiness. For example, legislative requirements could incur delays.
Applied Change offers a free online assessment that can be used to determine group emotional readiness for change and therefore predict the level of engagement.
Questions in the assessment cover a wide range of topics such as:
- Support from key stakeholders
- Whether incentives are in place to encourage change
- Preference for the familiar versus the new
- Whether training and support is provided for change
- Readiness to adapt to market trends
When the assessment is completed, a results chart highlights key areas of strength/weakness with suggested development opportunities to improve change readiness.
Change readiness is a key part of the Applied Change 5E Model for effective change. The 5E model helps us to focus on five focus areas, which are fundamental to achieving change readiness and implementing change:
Energise: creating a desire to change
Enable: understanding barriers to change and addressing them
Execute: ensuring clarity of roles and plans for implementation
Embed: establishing new practices effectively; avoid reverting to old behaviours
Evaluate: continuing to monitor and respond to feedback
What are the tips for improving readiness for change within an organisation?
The best way to improve readiness for change is to foster a receptive culture in the organisation. Transforming the culture takes some time and effort, but it bears fruit. Creating a change-ready organisation means that we are in a strong position to adapt quickly to meet shifting market conditions and customer demands.
Engage with employees
Maintain two-way communication channels. Be as open as possible with all stakeholders about forthcoming changes, and actively seek feedback. Importantly, we need to demonstrate clearly that we are considering and acting on feedback. Once impacted parties recognise that they are being involved and listened to, we start to gain their trust. This will significantly increase the likelihood of cooperation with and support for the programme of change.
The importance of communication cannot be overemphasised. This relates not just to sharing the details of what needs to change, but crucially, why. When we understand the reasons behind a course of action, we are much more likely to buy into it. This is partly because the benefits have been explained, but also for many of us, simply having someone take the time to explain the rationale to us, goes a long way towards gaining our support. This type of engagement helps us to feel valued, trusted and involved.
Sell the benefits – or explain the non-negotiable.
Some changes may not have any obvious benefits to the organisation. For example, if legislation is introduced which necessitates changes to working practices. In this case, there is no scope for negotiation – the changes must be introduced or the organisation could be in breach of the law. The benefit is compliance with legislation, and therefore avoidance of fines or other consequences.
Embed experimentation in the everyday
When continuous improvement is embedded in everyday activities, change becomes second nature and is no longer something alien. Change is often perceived as something to avoid or to be feared because it is the unknown. When change becomes the norm in an organisation, we become more comfortable with it. However, frequent change should generally be incremental, so that it is manageable for everyone involved. If too many big-scale changes are introduced it can be stressful and unsettling, and this can lead to a yearning for the stability of lengthy periods without change.
Reward success and celebrate the learnings from failure
When change is successfully implemented and maintained, we need to recognise the achievements. Equally, when change is not successful, we should knowledge the efforts made and appreciate the opportunity to learn from the experience. As Henry Ford wrote, “Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.”
Conducting a change readiness assessment is also an ideal opportunity for relationship-building. It is a convenient way to introduce ourselves if we are not familiar with all the stakeholders involved in our own organisation, and when working with a new client organisation it is invaluable.
Even if the assessment is conducted online through questionnaires rather than through meetings, at the very least the interested parties know that we have engaged with them. It means that the first interaction with them conveys the message that we are interested in them, that we are taking the time to seek feedback from them, and that their opinion matters. Asking people for feedback and showing we are listening helps to create an environment of understanding and trust.
If our first contact with people in the organisation is asking them to implement changes for our programme, it is similar to a political candidate knocking at the door and asking for us to vote for them, when we have never heard from them before. Most of us would be far more likely to lend them our support if they had made previous contact with us and had demonstrated an interest in our views and feedback.
Listen with an open mind
If we believe in the changes to be implemented, we can use that conviction to change behaviours and bring other parties from a state of resistance to being ready to accept, or better still, embrace the change. However, if we have any doubts about the validity of the proposed change, we should consider any feedback carefully and potentially revisit the plans with the project sponsors. There is no merit in persisting in implementing changes that are not the right course for the organisation.
Use the results of your assessment to inform your project plans. It is possible that the results of the assessment will mean that the plan for your change programme will need to be revised. Although it may go against the grain to delay a project rollout, it is better to do that and succeed than to plough ahead with implementation in an organisation that is not ready to adopt change.
Cultivate emotional intelligence
Research by Sharma and Singh (2018) found that emotional intelligence levels in an organisation influence change readiness. Emotional intelligence training for leaders can result in an improved ability to manage conflict and can help them to introduce change more effectively.
Organisational change readiness is by no means a guarantee of a successful project. Successful delivery of change also requires an effective implementation programme. However, the chances of delivering and embedding change as planned are enhanced when an organisation has a culture of embracing change and strives to maintain a state of change readiness.
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