Readiness for change is a measure of how prepared individuals or organisations are to introduce change. When we have a high level of change readiness, we are able to react positively to and effect change as the Harvard Business Review describes it:
“Change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance.”
Change readiness assessment is widely used in medical settings, for example, to identify whether people are ready to make behavioural changes that could improve their health outcomes. It can also be useful in gauging the readiness of criminals to reform through behavioural adjustments.
Change readiness assessments are equally important in the business world. Managing an organisation’s readiness for change leads to the successful implementation of change. Members of the organisation who score highly on readiness for change assessments are more likely to display cooperative behaviours and exert more effort and persistence in delivering change.
Developing readiness for change is not something immediate, rather it is achieved by going through a series of stages. A good understanding of the readiness for change in an organisation is an important factor in successfully delivering change. A transformation project or the introduction of new processes can be derailed by a lack of motivation to change. As psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.”
When it comes to organisational change, readiness for change needs to be measured at more than one level. Weiner (2009), suggests that it should be measured at the individual and organisational level, while Rafferty et al (2013) recommend assessing readiness at the individual, group and organisational level.
When we know the level of readiness in an organisation, we can adopt additional strategies and take steps to respond to any readiness gap and set goals that are appropriate and manageable.
Table of Contents
Readiness for change models
• Identify the stages of readiness for change
• Can be used at the individual or organisational level
• Inform our strategies and plans for change programmes
• Require definition of the level of readiness required
What readiness for change models are in common use?
The Transtheoretical Model of Change was designed by James O Prochaska, drawing on his comprehensive research into behavioural change. Prochaska and DiClemente produced the Cycle of Change theory in 1983, which outlines the different stages which we go through when introducing changes to behaviour. It is a six-stage cycle, and we may find we revisit some stages as we go through the change implementation. This is the most widely used readiness for change model.
The model of Change Agility: Readiness for strategy implementation (Combe, 2014), focuses on three key drivers: Culture, Commitment and Capacity, connected cogs in the organisation. Organisational agility or readiness for change is achieved by transforming beliefs, norms and behaviours.
What are the psychological stages of change readiness in the Stages of Change Model?
In Prochaska’s model, we pass through six psychological stages of change readiness. These run in the following sequence:
• Relapse (or on successful completion Termination)
In this stage, we are not even thinking about making a change. We are not interested in and have no intention of making any changes. At this point, we may be in denial that there is any need for change. We may also have a negative experience of change in the past which tends to deter us from initiating change.
During Contemplation we may demonstrate ambivalence towards change. This is the period for weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of a potential change. Factors that we may consider include cost, time, risks and fear. At this stage, many people are not yet ready to take action. Without intervention, the contemplation stage can last for a long time – months or even years.
This is the stage where we are willing and have the intention to try out some changes. These changes may be small, and a degree of ambivalence may persist into this stage. The preparation stage is important, and if it is cut short it may reduce the chances of success.
We now take decisive action to make modifications to what we do and how we behave. Whereas changes made in earlier stages are often not clear to others, the changes in the action stage are visible.
New behaviours are established to replace the old. This is the phase of striving to sustain the new behaviour and avoiding reverting to old behaviours. It is critically important to the ongoing success of the implementation and requires a high level of commitment.
There is no longer any wish to return to old patterns of behaviour or old working practices.
New patterns of behaviour are not maintained, and people slip back into old practices.
How does change readiness relate to the science and practice of behaviour change?
The readiness for change models reflects the patterns of behaviour change that most of us go through to effect a change.
In practice, many of us will go through the stages several times before a change comes fully into effect (Zimmerman et al., 2000). It is also common for people to go back in the opposite direction through the stages.
In addition to these stages, there is an overarching Upward Spiral. This refers to the learning acquired through each iteration of the Cycle of Change. Each time we repeat the cycle we are likely to learn from it and should therefore be able to progress through the phases faster the next time.
Lewin’s Change Management Model shows three stages of change – Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze. Lewin likens implementing change to altering the shape of a block of ice. In his analogy, the original block of ice needs to change its state, i.e. move from solid to liquid, in order to be able to be moulded into a newly shaped block. The final stage is solidifying the water back into ice. In the end state, the ice has incorporated the changes and has formed a new shape.
Unfreeze: make the stakeholders amenable to change
This stage is all about preparing the organisation for the coming changes and moving away from the status quo.
Change: introduce the new processes, policies, procedures to the organisation
Freeze: new practices become the new norm, old patterns have been discarded. The organisation has been remoulded.
Resistance to change is a natural reaction and we should remember that it is not necessarily negative. It can offer checks and balances function to challenge proposed changes which are not necessarily the best course of action. However, when the proposed change must be implemented, resistance to change needs to be addressed.
How could we assess readiness for change?
The first stage is to make sure we fully understand who will be impacted by the planned changes. We need to outline:
• Type: for example, strategy, process, technology, job roles, technology, merger or other
• Scope: which teams / departments / divisions will be impacted
• Numbers: How many employees are impacted
• Scale: how different is the change from the status quo
The data gathered from this will inform the implementation plans and the communications strategy and can be used to identify risks and opportunities.
A change readiness assessment should make use of both qualitative and quantitative data. We can gather qualitative data by conducting interviews with people to assess how they feel about a proposed change and whether they are ready to implement a new, alternative way of working. In a large organisation, interviews may be restricted to the leadership team, or they may be conducted across a selected sample of stakeholders.
Interviews can help us to assess the level of understanding of the planned change and its impact/benefits, how well the vision for the project has been communicated to stakeholders and the appetite for change – which may have been influenced by previous experience. Another option is to use qualitative surveys to gauge readiness for change.
The Readiness to Change Ruler can be used to measure an individual’s readiness to change. With this tool we can assess where people are on the continuum, and how motivated they are to commit to change. People are asked to identify where they feel they are in terms of readiness on a quantitative scale, for example on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 meaning definitely not ready for change, and 10 meaning definitely ready to change. This is a quick and simple way for us to assess readiness levels.
Questionnaires can be used to assess readiness to change, for example, using the Generalized Self-Efficacy Scale devised by Schwarzer, R and Jerusalem, M. Each question asks respondents to rank themselves on a rating scale. The higher the total score on the questionnaire, the greater the respondent’s willingness and capacity to follow through on behaviour change and maintain it.
Data can then be used to identify individuals and/or departments where support is required to achieve a suitable level of readiness for change.
What practical tips can we use to help?
Communication is one of the key tools at our disposal to develop readiness for change in our organisations. Crucially, communications need to be two-way. Firstly, listening and then delivering our messaging.
Using assessment tools such as surveys, questionnaires and as a starting point, we can work with people to explore their reasons for reluctance to change. For example, if this is rooted in negative experiences of previous change projects, we can take steps to ensure that those negative experiences are not repeated, and we can communicate how the new project differs from what has gone before.
Preparing a compelling message to demonstrate why the current way of working cannot continue. We should provide facts and figures to support proposed changes so that the reasons for change are clear to all stakeholders. For example, we can make it clear whether the change is being driven by a drop in customer satisfaction, or by external factors.
We should anticipate strong reactions from some people when change is proposed as well as when it is introduced. Change can throw people, and an organisation, off-balance, so it needs to be handled sensitively. Part of the motivation to manage the new changes will be the prospect of reaching a new equilibrium.
Highlight the benefits
It is important to demonstrate to stakeholders how the new change will benefit them at an individual level, not just at an organisational level. While the majority of stakeholders may be interested in the advantages for the business, some people will be more motivated to change when they understand the impact on them personally.
We need to bear in mind that in some situations there are people who benefit from the status quo, and additional efforts and support may be needed to bring these people up to the readiness level of others.
Why should we learn the readiness for change model?
Studies have shown that approximately 70% of change projects fail, for example, according to research by Kotter (1996), Beer and Nohria (2000). More recent studies continue to support this. Many change implementation collapses are caused by a failure to prepare the individuals or organisations for change.
When we understand the readiness for change model, we are in a strong position to drive the successful outcome of a planned change or project. We recognise the stages of the process, and this allows us to prepare for and mitigate any readiness-related risks or threats to the programme of change.
Mitigating strategies can include:
• Exploring potential or perceived barriers to change and how they might be overcome
• Highlighting the benefits of making changes
• Encouraging first steps in the change process, using the motivation of past success and building on existing strengths
• Tracking change in small increments and rewarding results
Assessing readiness for change and using this to inform our strategies and plans gives us a significant advantage when it comes to the effective implementation of change in an organisation.