What is a Change Readiness Assessment & How does it Work?

What is a Change Readiness Assessment & How does it Work?

Whether you are adding departments, cutting costs, or introducing new technologies, it pays to check the ‘temperature’ of your organisation first. Are all the people who are going to be affected by the change aware of it? Do they support the initiative? Do they have everything they need to implement it?

Without proper stakeholder engagement, any major business changes you are contemplating will be met with resistance. Your employees and line managers might ignore, undermine, or out-wait your initiative.

Every company with a track record of successful change management starts by finding out if its people, processes, and infrastructure are prepared for the change. The best way to do this is to conduct a change readiness assessment.

What is a change readiness assessment?

A change readiness assessment is a tool you use to determine whether your organisation is ready, able, and willing to accept, implement, and sustain a significant change initiative. It tells you what to expect if you execute proposed changes today. More than that, it helps you pinpoint the areas you need to address to make the change process a success.

Most assessment tools are detailed questionnaires that gather information on stakeholder awareness and the organisation’s capability to implement change. Employees, for example, might be asked if they are well informed of the change initiative, if they are positively on board, and if they feel that there are sufficient procedures to execute the change successfully. 

To complete the assessment, they circle on a scale the number that corresponds with their perception of how each statement characterises the organisation.

The Applied Change Readiness Assessment is different to most because it also incorporates scientifically validated psychometric questions relating to the person answering and how they feel about or come at change more generally, alongside probing their beliefs and perspectives on the specific change.

What is the purpose of a change readiness assessment?

The change management process has three critical phases. In the first phase, change leaders prepare the approach to take. They define objectives, secure the support of key stakeholders, and spell out what it will take to achieve success. The second phase focuses on developing specific plans to move individuals and the organisation through the change. 

The actions taken here include allocating resources, tracking performance, and adapting actions. In the final phase, change leaders ensure the organisation is equipped to sustain the target outcomes.

A change readiness assessment ideally fits into the initial phase of this change management process although it’s also useful to check periodically along the way too. Its purpose is to check that the planned change has a good chance of success before it is implemented. You can think of it as a map that gives you a feel of stakeholder engagement and informs the approach to take. 

It tells you where you are so that you can create a solid plan for getting where you want to go. When used mid-change it also gives you some certainty that the change management actions (and investment) are targeted where they will have the most benefit.

How do you assess readiness for change?

To assess your organisation’s readiness for change, you must examine each of its four core elements: people, culture, process, and infrastructure. 

People: To achieve the planned change, the people who will implement it need to be fully informed about the initiative and all the ways it will affect them. A change readiness assessment should measure their level of awareness and buy-in, whether they understand their roles and responsibilities, and if they believe that they have the skills and competencies needed to execute the change.

It should also assess their perception of the people steering the change. If employees feel c-suite executives lack the competency to lead the change or middle managers are unenthusiastic about the initiative, they are unlikely to put in the extra effort needed to make it a success.

Culture: An organisation’s culture comprises the assumptions, expectations, and values that guide the actions of its staff. Understanding your organisation’s culture can help you predict how people will respond to planned business change.

Is the culture more collaborative or individualistic? Is it bureaucratic and slow-moving or entrepreneurial and fast-paced? Does the planned change fit into this cultural landscape, or does it challenge it? If it challenges the culture, have sufficient efforts been made to sway the people’s (un)willingness to change?

Process: It is also essential to assess whether the organisation itself is ready for change. Are all the policies, procedures, and systems needed to support the change in place? Have clear process metrics been set in place? 

Have process owners been assigned and functional hierarchies de-emphasized? An excellent place to look for guidance is the organisations’ experience with previous change efforts. What were the outcomes of past change efforts? Did the staff understand the processes set in place? Was there sufficient documentation? Were the desired outcomes achieved in time? 

Infrastructure: If the company is adopting new technologies, divesting into a new line of products, or expanding to a new location, it might need new tools, policies, and administrative structures. 

Some questions to ask in the change readiness assessment include: has careful organisational planning been done to ensure the company transitions its business activities efficiently? Are information and data support systems in place? The assessment can help ascertain if the change has all the support systems it needs before it is rolled out.

What are the steps of readiness assessment?

Change leaders can use several methods to assess readiness. Most of these methods can be distilled into a few practical steps:

1. Interview key stakeholders to collect data: First and foremost, interview everyone involved in the change initiative, including senior leadership, staff, and customers. Use a change readiness survey that assesses the stakeholder’s understanding of the need for change, their perception of the benefits and barriers the change will bring, and their feelings about the organisation’s capacity to execute the change. 

Is everyone well informed about the project’s sponsorship, the resources allocated, and the level of support they can expect? Collect as much data as you can get on all four dimensions of the organisation.

2. Analyse the data: After collecting data, analyse it to identify the areas that need more focus or support. You can visualise the data on a heatmap colour-coded with green for change enablers and red for risks. If most stakeholders said they did not have a clear vision of what the change is meant to achieve, mark that as a red segment.

3. Draft a plan for improving change readiness: From your data analysis, you should tell the areas you need to work on to improve change readiness. Do you need to double down on your communication efforts to improve the stakeholder’s understanding of the change initiative? Do you need to invest more in processes and systems? Any segment of the assessment that is not scoring in the positive is a candidate for attention, prioritising of course any strongly negative sentiment. 

Keep in mind that widely held negative or even neutral sentiment will serve to undermine or even derail even the most well-run change initiative. And scale or size of budget offer no protection, only greater consequences.

4. Repeat for complex or long-term projects: If your change efforts are cutting across multiple divisions or are meant to last several years, you will need to have ongoing conversations about engagement and the company’s capabilities to sustain the change.

Given that these steps are so critical to any engagement strategy they have become part of our standard consultancy engagement model. We’ve also now distilled them into the change readiness assessment tool so you can either get a head start before engaging us or you can use the output and have your in-house teams take the required actions, periodically monitoring progress as they go.

What is a readiness strategy?

A readiness strategy is a plan to align an organisation’s key elements (people, culture, process, and infrastructure) with the demands of a planned change initiative. A good readiness strategy is informed by the results of a readiness assessment and addresses four key questions:

• What should we keep doing? These are the things you have learned you are doing well. If you learn that you have done an excellent job of communicating the planned change, keep those channels of communication open.

• What do we need to start doing? From the readiness survey, you might learn of things you overlooked while you were planning for change. Stakeholders’ responses should help you make a checklist of things to do before you roll out the change.

• What do we need to watch? Perhaps you thought that all stakeholders understood the need for change, but they are not entirely sold on it. You might need to have ongoing conversations to secure their buy-in.

• What do we need to leverage? If some people or departments are more invested in the change than others, you can leverage their support, knowledge, or skills to expedite the change or increase its chances of success.

A good readiness assessment tool should also give you guidance on what to focus on, ideally including tips on how to do what’s recommended. This can be useful both to inform the strategy and give a basis for measuring the effect of the actions taken, e.g. by periodically repeating the assessment.

What is your readiness for change?

A change readiness assessment will tell you if you are ready for learning, resistance, frustration, or change.

• You are ready for resistance if the change initiative is unclear and stakeholder engagement is weak. Most likely, the change leaders and the organisation itself do not have a history of successfully executing major business change.

• You are ready for frustration if the organisation has a track record of successful change, but the upcoming change is being led by people who are either unwilling or unable to execute the change. The organisation has what it needs to execute the change, but senior leadership—and the staff’s perception of it—is the main obstacle.

• You are ready for learning if leaders have led successful change efforts in the past, but there are still gaps in planning, communicating, and implementing current change efforts. Here, leaders can leverage their experience to speed up the change process and secure the commitment of stakeholders.

• You are ready for change if the organisation scores highly in all the change readiness metrics: communication is open and all stakeholders are aware of, excited about, and engaged with the change; the culture is agile enough to match the urgency of the change, and the organisation has thought ahead and adapted its processes and infrastructure to meet the demands of the change.

Final thoughts

Even when it’s apparent that change will be good for your company, some employees may disagree with this assessment. The company itself may not have the processes or infrastructure needed to execute the change.

A change readiness assessment highlights the gap between the current and necessary stakeholder engagement and the gap between the capabilities an organisation has and the capabilities it needs to implement change. It should ideally be the first tool any organisation serious about change needs to pull from its arsenal.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.