Are you ready?
Readiness is the most potent predictor of change success. But, it’s not an all-or-nothing situation. There are different types and levels of readiness. Taking time to understand, build, and work with the different types of readiness enables a robust and healthy organization with employees who don’t fear change.
Readiness is not Resistance Gone Missing
The title of my master’s thesis was Children’s Conception of Health. The study explored how children understand and define health. I chose that topic because I was curious to learn more about developing our understanding and definition of the concept. To complete the study, I asked children between the ages of five and twelve about their health and how they defined it. Their answers were always thoughtful. Sometimes I thought I was in my version of the TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
The results revealed that health was often conceptualized as the absence of something, for example, not being sick or not eating certain foods. As the children got older, they broadened their definition to include other factors, but the absence of factors remained part of their understanding.
It’s similar when leaders think about readiness for change. When I explore readiness with leaders, they talk about the absence of resistance. Leaders describe the actions and behaviours people don’t do. For example, people don’t question the change, make “negative” comments, and don’t put up barriers.
Two problems arise when we view readiness as simply the absence of resistance. The first is that many of the actions, attitudes, or behaviours described as resistance are normal. They are needed to build readiness.
For example, asking questions or challenging the need and outcome signal an early level of readiness. Other behaviours or attitudes such as a lack of buy-in or clinging to the current state are also normal. They too early signs of readiness that can help guide planning. The second problem is that a lack of resistance doesn’t mean we will let go and adopt new activities or behaviours. For that, we need readiness.
I define readiness as the willingness, capability, and commitment to move toward something new or different. It is the precursor for all change. That’s why I advocate that leaders stop managing resistance. Instead, I recommend adopting a readiness mindset. Then focus on enabling organizational, people, and personal readiness for change.
Organizational Versus People Readiness
I differentiate between organizational readiness and people readiness. I discovered the difference between the two while working with a client who was implementing new case management technology.
I recall asking the manager about the level of readiness for the new environment. He said, “we are ready; everything is set. All we need to do is get people trained. Then we can implement.”
When I asked what he meant by everything is set, he described the purchase and implementation of the software and hardware, upgrading other supporting technology, and approval from the executive to move forward. In addition, the vendor would provide training in the next couple of weeks. So, yes, the organization was ready, but not the people (change-recipients) who would need to do the heavy lifting.
Organizational readiness refers to the specific tasks, events and work required to prepare the change event. These activities can include purchasing new hardware and software, the due diligence needed for a merger or acquisition, and even training.
People readiness is different. It is the willingness and ability of a person to engage in the activities and behaviours needed to move through the change process and enable the organization to achieve the intended outcome. Building people readiness requires a different set of actions and a different timeline. You need to start sooner, often before a change initiative or project has been officially launched.
People readiness is about preparing people. Activities to build people readiness are less tangible; They include helping people connect with the need for change, understanding its fit within their world, building perceived capability, intrinsic motivation, and building knowledge and skill (training).
It’s possible to have high levels of organizational readiness without people readiness. Yet, it’s people readiness that drives your success.
Within people readiness is our personal change readiness.
Personal Change Readiness
I have been promoting and encouraging leaders to build people readiness for over a decade. Several years ago, when I saw employees struggle with organizational changes they had no control over, I identified another aspect of people readiness. I call it personal change readiness.
Our personal change readiness reflects our conscious and unconscious beliefs, values, willingness, and ability to engage with change. As we develop high levels of personal change readiness, we can interact instead of reacting to change events. Flexibility, resilience, compassion, and a sense of control—control not in a force “it” to be different sort of way, but in a way that lets us see options, choose to interact and move with the events as they occur—are part of our personal change readiness.
Since identifying it, I have been working to help people build their change readiness. For example, in our Stress Management For Organizational Change Course, participants explore four keys for building personal change readiness. Participants use an understanding of their response to change, mindfulness, the normal human response to change, and stress science to design a path for building their readiness.
Readiness Allows Organizations and People to Grow with Change
Change is a necessary part of every organization and in life. Even if you sat on a chair all day and did nothing, you would have changed at the end of the day. Readiness—organizational, people, and personal—allow us to grow with change and not simply react.
One final note about readiness. Readiness for change doesn’t mean we (or your employees) will adopt or even like every change event that occurs. We are not wired that way.
Readiness is about creating an internal and external environment that enables us to stay present, feel prepared, and interact consciously with the events. Then we can move through the change process with less stress and discomfort.