How to assess change readiness

Summary and key action points

The purpose of a change readiness assessment is to analyse the level of preparedness of the conditions, attitudes and resources, at all levels in a systemIn this context the word 'system' is being used to cover organisations, sectors, networks, national structures, or any other combination of elements that might together be the focus of a capacity development initiative., needed for change to happen successfully.  The greater the complexity of the proposed change, the greater the importance of understanding whether and where there is readiness for change as this can be critical first for deciding whether it is appropriate to intervene and, if it is appropriate, about both the entry points and the types of intervention. 

Key action steps

  • Definition of the scope of the proposed change: all key stakeholders need to know the full range of system components that need to be assessed.  It is important to understand whether the whole system, and any or all of the elements within it, are ready. 
  • Selection of tools: There are some generic tools and resources available for change readiness assessment, mostly from the business world, and there are also a few that have been created for the development sector. All generic tools should be adapted for relevance to local needs and context before they are used. If nothing is available to suit the specific needs something should be created. Whatever tool is used it should cover attitudes, conditions and resources at all relevant levels. Some useful materials can be found on the following websites:
  • Assessment of relevant dimensions of the context: The starting point for any assessment is identified by the scope of the capacity development initiative and associated change that is envisioned from its implementation.
    • Whatever the starting point of the assessment it is necessary to go beyond looking at one specific point in the system to all relevant levels (e.g. individual, organisational, institutional/enabling environment), so a ‘zoom in and zoom out’ to other levels and points in the system will provide better information.  Zooming in means looking at smaller units, such as departments, teams or individuals.  Zooming out means assessing relevant factors in the surrounding environment.
    • Additionally dimensions of readiness – attitudes, conditions and resources – need to be assessed.
    • It is absolutely essential to include a realistic analysis of the political economy at national and or local level in any change readiness assessment.
  • Analysis and summary. The summary definition of readiness does not need to be complex, it can be as simple as: Fully ready; Partially ready; or, Not ready at all, so long as the conclusion is backed by appropriate evidence.

Introduction

Readiness means being prepared. In summary change readiness can be defined as:

  • Having the right conditions and resources in place to support the change process
  • Having a clear vision and objectives for the intended change
  • Having the motivation and attitudes to engage with the change and make it work

So the purpose of a change readiness assessment is to analyse the preparedness of the conditions, attitudes and resources need for change to happen successfully.  The greater the complexity of the proposed change, the greater the importance of understanding where in the systemIn this context the word 'system' is being used to cover organisations, sectors, networks, national structures, or any other combination of elements that might together be the focus of a capacity development initiative. there is readiness for change as this can be critical first for deciding whether it is appropriate to intervene and, if it is appropriate, about both the entry points and the types of intervention. 

Why assess for change readiness?

In any context capacity development is about change. Implementing and managing change is usually a very big undertaking which is why there is so much attention paid to all aspects of change in the academic and business worlds, and increasingly development practitioners understand how important change is to the success of development initiatives at all levels. The changes intended by a capacity development initiative may be on a very large scale, affecting many elements and individuals within a system and how they relate to each other, or they may be quite small affecting only one part of a system and a few people.

Whatever the size and scope of the intended change it is important that the key stakeholders understand whether the whole system, and any or all of the elements within it, are ready.  This is for two reasons: firstly, embarking on a capacity development change initiative without assessing readiness, at best risks wasting opportunities and resources, and at worst risks doing damage to existing capacity. (This is why change readiness assessments are sometimes referred to as change risk assessments.) Secondly, the interrelatedness of all parts in a functioning system means that even though many may be ready, perhaps one small element could block capacity development initiatives from being effective. It can also be about the ability to manage change, which requires several soft capacities such as communication skills, flexibility and responsiveness, strategic thinking and so on. The lack of the right conditions often creates blocks to capacity creation, utilization and retention. Understanding where these blocks are can provide valuable guidance for entry points: maybe the block has to be dealt with first in order to free up access to all other parts of the system, or maybe the proposed entry point has to be amended in order to by-pass a block that can’t be overcome. 

Assessing and defining change readiness

As with other aspects of capacity development the very strong interrelationships between different levels (individual, organisational, sectoral and institutional/enabling environment) makes it essential to assess readiness at all relevant levels.  While some change readiness assessment tools focus on organisations the majority are very heavily oriented towards individuals.  Neither focus gives a sufficiently comprehensive analysis of change readiness for the purposes of a capacity development initiative. Going beyond looking at one specific level or point in the system through a ‘zoom in and zoom out’ to other levels and points in the system provides better information, and an example of how to do this is given below.  Within each level it is necessary to assess different dimensions of readiness: attitudes, conditions and resources. The levels and dimensions are shown together in the matrix below.

While conditions and resources are of course important it is increasingly understood that it is absolutely essential to make an honest assessment of the political context and political economy (which means the relationship between political and economic actors in any one country).  All too often in the past capacity development initiatives have been launched without taking account of the political conditions and the political economy with the result that little, if any, sustainable change has been achieved. The support of key stakeholders, who may be at national or local level, is essential to sustainable change.  There may be many reasons why powerful stakeholders choose not to engage and give their active support to a capacity development initiative, for example: they may not see any benefits for them; they may see some threats to their own interests; they may have other priorities; they might not understand the need or what the process is about; or, it may be that powerful regional or international factors are at work. Only when these factors have been identified and understood will it be possible to plan interventions that work appropriately to address or overcome constraints arising from the political context and the political economy.

While a full write up the findings of the assessment process is needed, a matrix such as the one below could be a helpful guide for analysis and visual summary of the findings.  A simple phrase such as Fully ready; Partially ready; or, Not ready at all in each box would show clearly both where there are strong elements of change readiness that can be engaged and built on for the capacity development initiative, and where preparatory work, perhaps to overcome resistance or create enabling conditions, has to be done before any change process can start with a hope of success. 

  Level

Dimensions

Institutional/enabling environment

Organisational

Individual

Attitudes: The political economy for change: the vision of a different future and the commitment to achieve it

1

2

3

Conditions: The laws, structures, systems, etc. necessary to mandate, support and manage the change

4

5

6

Resources: The human, physical and financial resources needed to support or facilitate the change

7

8

9

The starting point for any assessment is identified by the scope of the capacity development initiative and associated change that is envisioned from its implementation. If, for example, the initiative is to be public administration reform, the starting point might be in box 4 – looking at the what laws, policies, strategies are already in place in the institutional environment to mandate the necessary changes. Or if the focus is something smaller, like extending the operational mandate of a ministry department then the starting point would likely be boxes 5 and 8, looking at the functional and resource factors at the organisational level.

Once the starting point has been decided the ‘zoom in – zoom out’ idea is useful for ensuring that the assessment covers all relevant factors. Zooming in means looking at smaller units, such as departments, teams or individuals.  Zooming out means assessing relevant factors in the surrounding environment. What this might mean in practice is shown in the table below.

  Level

Dimensions

Institutional/enabling environment

Organisational

Individual

Attitudes:

Zoom out to the political economy for change: e.g. what factors in the environment will enable or inhibit the work?

Zoom out to the culture and motivation in the organisations in the sector and associated networks

Zoom in to the attitude of key stakeholders: e.g. will the leadership give the change their political support?

Conditions:

Start here for sector reform conditions: e.g. what laws, policies, structures, systems are already in place?

Zoom in to the mandates, governance, structures and systemsof individual organisations

Zoom in to the job descriptions and conditions of service of individuals

Resources:

 

Zoom in to look at what external resources are already available to support the change

Zoom in to organisational resources: e.g. do they have what they need to implement and manage the change?

Zoom in to the knowledge and skills of individuals who will be critical to implementation

Finding helpful tools

The matrix above can be considered as a tool, but it would not fit all needs, and different tools may be needed to look at more specific components of system readiness.  There are some generic tools and resources available for change readiness assessment, mostly from the business world, and there are also a few that have been created for the development sector. Some useful materials can be found on the websites listed in the summary above.

There are two development specific tools in the EuropaAid Capacity Development Toolkit (www.capacity4dev.eu). Tool 6 is for making a qualitative assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the available capacity to manage change of a team or an individual. It is primarily intended for use by stakeholders who intend and have the option to play a significant role. This tool works with the “open systems approach” and the capacity of a change team is defined by 1) its internal strengths and weaknesses, 2) by stakeholders in the context and 3) the ability of the team to relate to stakeholders, which depends on the team’s skills and the positions of the stakeholders. Tool 6a is for mapping current strengths and weaknesses of the relations of the change team to key stakeholders, and of the internal strengths and weaknesses of the team to improve these relations in favour of capacity development and change. The tool helps the team to establish a realistic picture of whether it will be able to handle the change.

PESTLE is an acronym forpolitical, economic, sociological, technological, legal, and environmental.  This is a well-known assessment tool from the business world that is very effective for doing an analysis of the context and conditions in which an organisation exists, especially the political economy.  The findings of a PESTLE analysis can highlight both positive and negative influential factors for capacity development processes, and that information can be used to guide decision making. It is considered to be most effective when used as a self-assessment tool.A useful guide to the PESTLE analysis tool is available from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) at www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/corpstrtgy/general/pestle-analysis.htm?IsSrchRes=1

The questionnaire below is a good example of the many tools and questionnaires that are available on the Internet when ‘change readiness assessment’ is typed into a search engine. It can be used by managers who are tasked with planning and implementing a change process.

Change Readiness Survey (WorkLife Design, 2008)

This questionnaire and several other useful tools are available on from http://www.strategies-for-managing-change.com/change-management-implementation.html

Take a few moments to think about how your organization typically plans for and implements workplace changes. With this “change history” in mind, use the following scale to respond to each statement below. Circle the number that most closely reflects your experience. Compare your responses with co-workers and discuss ways to address areas of concern. A perfect score is 100; a perfectly miserable score is 20.

1: Strongly disagree
2: Disagree
3: Not sure
4: Agree
5: Strongly agree

1. Change typically occurs here with a clear picture or vision of the intended future.

1 2 3 4 5

2. Appropriate resources needed to make the change work are allocated.

1 2 3 4 5

3. The purpose or rationale for any change is clearly communicated to employees.

1 2 3 4 5

4. My manager/supervisor consistently demonstrates support for the change.

1 2 3 4 5

5. Standards and expectations for new behaviors are established and communicated during times of change.

1 2 3 4 5

6. Communication channels allow for ongoing feedback and/or information sharing between employees and designated leaders.

1 2 3 4 5

7. People impacted by the change are actively involved in shaping the desired future.

1 2 3 4 5

8. New expectations are a clear priority and desired actions are reinforced.

1 2 3 4 5

9. People most affected by the change are involved in identifying possible obstacles.

1 2 3 4 5

10. Processes are in place to document or report on our progress in making change work.

1 2 3 4 5

11. Communication channels with designated leaders are open for all employees.

1 2 3 4 5

12. People have a chance to “rehearse” new actions through practice, simulations, or visualizing the change.

1 2 3 4 5

13. Employees regularly know how well they are meeting the change expectations.

1 2 3 4 5

14. Key milestones are recognized with celebrations, rewards, or other acknowledgement.

1 2 3 4 5

15. Employees have a clear understanding of the standards and expectations that accompany any change.

1 2 3 4 5

16. Steps are taken to ensure that employees affected by a change have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to make the change work.

1 2 3 4 5

17. Managers and other leaders make themselves easily accessible for answering questions or information-sharing during times of change.

1 2 3 4 5

18. If the change involves significantly altering existing company-wide systems or processes, a trial period is conducted before the change is fully implemented.

1 2 3 4 5

19. Designated leaders actively seek input from employees concerning challenges, expectations, and innovations.

1 2 3 4 5

20. Overall, my organization leads, manages, and supports change in an effective, energizing way.

1 2 3 4 5

Creating an assessment tool

As a general rule all generic tools should be adapted for relevance to local needs and context before they are used. In cases when none of the available tools seem to fit the needs it is advisable to create one. This can be done by reviewing the questions in the different tools available on the Internet and deciding which, if rephrased for local relevance, might be helpful for the needs.  Listed below are some of the key areas that should be covered by the questions:

Attitudes

  • What is the demand for capacity development and change, and is it sufficient to overcome challenges and resistance and lead to sustainable change?
  • What is the vision of change and is it agreed by key stakeholders?
  • What understanding do stakeholders have about how to define necessary changes?
  • Is there a clear alignment between the shared vision of the intended changes and the development goal?
  • Who holds the power to support or block change in this context?
    • Who holds visible/legitimate power?
    • Where is the invisible/illicit power and how is it used?
  • Is there political will to initiate and resource change?
  • What motivation to change do the different stakeholders’ have?
    • How important is the change initiative for them?
    • What incentives are there for them to engage with change?
    • What perverse incentives would stop them from engaging?
  • Has senior management made a commitment to act as a sponsor of the change?
  • What issues in the culture, such as gender, are likely to be relevant to the change initiative?
  • Is the change consistent with the current organisational culture?
  • What is the value system and change background of the stakeholder groups?
  • What type of resistance can be expected and from where?
  • How has the leadership planned to manage resistance to change?

Conditions

  • How well are stakeholder goals aligned to the development goal to enable harmonisation around the change?
  • What is the scope of the change for the affected organisations, people, systems etc.?
  • Have the necessary results been quantified and articulated as objectives and indicators?
  • What supporting legislation, policies, strategies are already in place, and are more needed?
  • How much change is already going on and how well is it being managed?
  • Is there a history of adequately helping individuals make personal changes?
  • Will human resource policies, practices and processes (e.g., salary and benefits structure) support or inhibit the change?
  • Does the infrastructure exist to enable employees by providing them with the appropriate tools and training?

Resources

  • What organisational, project or programme management tools already exist that would help to plan, execute and monitor the change?
  • Are there enough staff in the right places?
  • Are staff appropriately skilled to manage and implement the change?
  • Are finance and other necessary resources available or likely to become available? If not, what is needed and where can it be sourced?
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