Getting ready for change carrying out a readiness assessment

Change Readiness

Many organizations find that change programmes, even apparently straightforward changes, fail to achieve their objectives. In many cases this is due to unclear aims, uncertain plans and a low awareness of what is required of the people involved.

Research has shown that a clear understanding of the current organizational situation, readiness for change, and the requirements for different stakeholders to enable the change, will help to increase the chances of success. An organization needs to understand the positive aspects of current attitudes, processes and behaviours that can be actively used to drive change, and the negative aspects that need to be reduced or controlled to avoid errors and reduce resistance.

Management Studies

In management research it is suggested that all components of change need to be assessed to gain a complete understanding of the level of readiness:

Management research emphasises the rational and political aspects of change, but tends to suggest that emotional responses are problematic. Much of the research is based on case-studies and tends to be descriptive, analysing change after the event and offering prescriptive solutions.

Psychological Studies

Psychological research focuses on three aspects of the individual during change, cognitive, emotional and behavioural, but also emphasises how the structure and situation within which the individual experiences change will influence their reactions. Emotions are accepted as a part of human nature, and both positive and negative aspects taken into account. Although this research also uses case studies, the concepts are backed up by tested theory and grounded in psychological experiments, enabling a much clearer view of cause and effect.

Psychological aspects of change:

Research in this area suggests that employees often view change as a signal that the organization may be reducing their side of the psychological contract, unless communication is clear they will tend to interpret any change as a potential loss. Many will experience anxiety and feel that their current schemas or mind-sets are challenged, which will increase anxiety further and lead to emotional contagion within groups. Psychological research also emphasises the importance of fairness or ‘justice’ perceptions during change, and how carrying out an assessment can be used to develop positive perceptions of ‘anticipatory justice’ to facilitate the actual change process.

Knowledge about the correct application of techniques to reduce anxiety, develop trust and commitment, adjust schemas, and help staff through processes of emotional and rational acceptance, will lead to positive behavioural outcomes. At the same time the correct use of behavioural reinforcement, goal setting, and role modelling will feed back into behavioural, emotional, and cognitive aspects.

Recent psychological research has also led to an awareness of the importance of considering both structure and agency in preparing for change. This suggests that it is important to assess and where necessary change the rules norms and roles that have developed in the organization. Consideration of organizational culture and history are important.

There is also now increasing evidence that organizational discourses (how people talk, the words they use, the stories they tell), strongly influence employees approach to change. Past experiences of change influence a persons approach to current and future changes, how groups of people talk about change can be an important part of the process. Although history is difficult to re-write, and cultural change is known to be extremely problematic, organizational discourse can be influenced over time, and analysis of this is another important tool for assessing change readiness.

Integrating management and psychological theory leads to seven key aspects of change:

A Holistic Approach

Many change consultants focus on the individual, arguing that individuals change not organizations. However, research suggests a more complex approach to change is needed, the organizational processes and structures need re-alignment to enable the individuals to change. Therefore a more holistic process is required, that takes into account the full range of likely barriers and enablers, all of which are interconnected, as highlighted above. All these aspects need to be taken into account when analysing readiness and designing each stage of the change.

Change Readiness Assessment

The readiness assessment includes analysis of the behavioural, emotional, cognitive, structural, rational and political aspects of the organization, specifically analysing the following areas:

o Values & goals
o Perceived management support
o Individual and organizational ‘self-efficacy’
o Perceptions of the history of change in your organization
o Communication flows
o Current & future measurements and rewards
o Change willingness x stakeholder
o Resources (availability, limitations)
o Processes (suitability, requirements)
o Management structures
o Administrative support processes
o Technology
o Knowledge levels
o Future-gap awareness

The methods used can be based on action research (therefore accepting that the assessment itself will generate some change, and actively using this) and grounded in the psychological and management literature, it will include:

o Focus groups to increase understanding of the above areas but also inform regarding communication processes and underlying blocks or channels for change promotion or resistance.
o Interviews with key stakeholders which will also enable assessment of private or sensitive issues.
o Survey instruments to add a quantitative element, provide access to a greater number of stakeholders, and enable some measurements for before and after the change.

As openness of communication is a key aspect of successful organizational change, it will be important to feed-back the findings to the people involved. Indeed, this feed-back activity will be an important mechanism in generating a positive approach to the change.

Readiness Assessment as part of the Change Process

Analysing the organization and the carriers and barriers for change is an important first step in any change process. Without this analysis it is difficult to assess what steps need to be taken to mobilise change. Perhaps more importantly, carrying out the assessment also enables the future change to be contemplated, discussed, and envisioned, with a potential loosening of current mind-sets, and pre-acceptance leading to increased push from all stakeholders. However, the process needs to be managed in a professional manner, making good use of psychological techniques to facilitate a positive outlook, as research suggests attitudes solidify early upon hearing of an imminent change and there is a need to secure a favourable sentiment from the very beginning.

Benefits of a Change Readiness Assessment

By carrying out a change readiness assessment an organization will enable:

o Increased likelihood of a successful change
o Clear objectives for the change
o Related measurements to enable assessment of success
o An understanding of what needs to be done to enable change, across a broad range of areas (processes, attitudes, behaviours)
o An increased understanding of the need to change for all stakeholders

Ethical Considerations

All assessments should be carried out under British Psychological Society code of conduct guidelines or similar code, by highly qualified consultants. All data should be collected, reported and stored to ensue anonymity and confidentiality. All participants will be offered the right to withdraw, and it should be stressed that participation is voluntary. As highlighted earlier, the information should be fed-back to the staff, which will also facilitate the start of the change process.