Many organizations find that even straightforward change programmes fail to achieve their objectives. In many cases due to unclear aims, uncertain plans and a low awareness of what is required. This can be addressed by carrying out a simple change readiness assessment.
Research has shown that a clear understanding of the current situation is needed for change. Including the requirements for different stakeholders to enable the change. This 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 research shows that all components of change need to be assessed to gain a complete understanding. Including the level of change readiness. Especially the rational and political aspects of change but tends to say that emotional responses are problematic. Much research is based on case-studies and tends to be descriptive, analysing change after the event and offering prescriptive solutions.
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. This research also uses case studies the concepts are backed up by tested theory and grounded in psychological experiments. This gives us a much clearer view of cause and effect.
Psychological aspects of change:
Employees often view change as a signal that the organization may be reducing their side of the psychological contract. And 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. This increases anxiety 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 and help staff through processes of emotional and rational acceptance, will lead to positive behavioural outcomes. Also 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 that have developed in the organization. Consideration of organizational culture and history are also important.
There is also now increasing evidence that how people talk, the words they use and the stories they tell strongly influence employees approach to change. Past experiences of change influence a persons approach to current and future changes. And 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 very difficult organizational dialogues can be influenced over time. 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 shows a more complex approach to change is needed, the organizational processes and structures need re-alignment. Therefore a more holistic process is required, that takes into account the full range of likely barriers and enablers, all of which are interconnected. 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:
- Values & goals;
- Perceived management support;
- Individual and organizational ‘self-efficacy’;
- Perceptions of the history of change in your organization;
- Communication flows;
- Current & future measurements and rewards;
- Change willingness across stakeholders;
- Resources (availability, limitations);
- Processes (suitability, requirements);
- Management structures;
- Administrative support processes;
- Knowledge levels;
- Future-gap awareness.
The methods used can be based on action research and grounded in the psychological and management literature, it will include:
- Focus groups to increase understanding of the above areas but also inform regarding communication processes;
- Also underlying blocks or channels for change promotion or resistance;
- Interviews with key stakeholders which will also enable assessment of private or sensitive issues;
- 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. This can lead to a potential loosening of current mind-sets, and pre-acceptance leading to increased push from stakeholders. But the process needs to be managed in a professional manner, making good use of psychological techniques. This facilitates a positive outlook, as we want to avoid solidify early negative feelings about imminent change. 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:
- Increased likelihood of a successful change;
- Clear objectives for the change;
- Related measurements to enable assessment of success;
- An understanding of what needs to be done to enable change, across a broad range of areas;
- An increased understanding of the need to change for all stakeholders.
All assessments should be carried out under a code of conduct guidelines or similar code, by highly qualified consultants. 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. The information should be fed-back to the staff which will facilitate the start of the change process.
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