Building Change Readiness: Empowering people for change

Building Change Readiness: Empowering people for change
By Diya Dey and Paul Clifford

Many people in organisations don’t like change – it can be seen as disruptive and annoying.  Routines developed and processes mastered create comfort, certainty and a sense of competence.  Change throws a cat amongst the pigeons and unsettles things. 

Some people see change in organisations as a reason to suspend current functioning of the business.  Projects and decisions are put on hold while the change is worked out.  Change is seen as an unusual occurrence which we just need to get through before things get back to normal and we can resume business as usual.  

Reality, however, demands a different viewpoint.  The current global economic environment requires organisations to be responsive and agile in order to remain competitive. Today’s world of work requires individuals and organisations to embrace change and a critical part of that process for organisations is to build a capacity for change readiness, within individuals and systemically across the organisation.

 “..In a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.“ — Peter Drucker, Management Challenges for the 21st Century (1999)

Traditional approaches to change focus on the implementation of a raft of processes to manage specific changes.  However, that only works where change is discrete and well-defined.  More often, we see a host of changes happening in concert.  Changes continuously evolve and influence each other, moving dynamically and growing in magnitude.  Change in this context requires individuals and organisations to be ‘change ready’ - to move as quickly and flexibly as the changes themselves.

So how exactly do we build change readiness? A state of change readiness requires everyone across the organisation to feel confident and capable to initiate, manage and influence change.

So let’s explore this further from two different angles – as the change facilitator who is responsible for the implementation of a change process within their team and as the change leader who initiates and takes responsibility for broader systemic change across an organisation.

The Change Facilitator

Most line managers would find themselves in a change facilitator role and have to deal with managing their people’s expectations and reactions to the change in question. If you’ve ever attended a traditional change management workshop for line managers, you will probably be familiar with the ‘change curve’ which focuses on helping people ‘cope with change’.

The Kubler Ross Change Curve

But did you know, that this change curve is rooted in the classic theory of how we as human beings, cope with grief and loss in our lives?

Reframing change as opportunities for growth

Is it really helpful to encourage people to associate change with loss and focus on their emotional reactions to changes in their workplace? Is this really helping to build the confidence and capability that we associate with change readiness”?  In our experience, framing ‘change’ in the same context as grief or loss is often counter-productive and can create unnecessary negative expectations from the change process.   

Emerging research on change readiness and positive psychology challenges this notion and instead suggests focusing on helping employees proactively engage with the change in a more positive, empowering and dynamic way. Leaders can create opportunities for people to have active participation in the change process and to influence the changes.

Resist the urge to label staff as being ‘resistant’

While facilitating change, we also need to be wary of labelling staff as being resistant to change. This implies that employees are being deliberately difficult, unwieldy and stuck in their own ways of doing things. But are they really? Research shows that there can be a wide range of legitimate reasons for someone to be apprehensive about change. They may not have sufficient understanding and insight into the full change and the vision behind the proposed change, they may lack the appropriate skill sets to work effectively with the changes, or they may be cynical and change fatigued with past experiences of badly managed change initiatives. Once again we need to ask the question “Is this really helping to build confidence and capability that we associate with change readiness”?

Engagement and empowerment are critical

It is incumbent upon the change facilitators to understand what lies beneath an employee’s reaction to change and work with them to help them identify and overcome their reservations and apprehensions. Ultimately, a true change in behaviour comes from empowering people to believe in themselves and their skills to help them embrace any change that they experience.

The Change Leader

Now let’s think about the role of change leaders in building change readiness. They need to maintain a broader perspective to ensure systemic change readiness or organisational change readiness. Some mistakenly believe that all one needs to do when managing organisational level change is to apply Kotter’s 8 principles for successful organisational transitions.  Whilst this might apply well to large scale change, they are often difficult to apply when the scale of the change is smaller. 

In many cases it may be better to focus on creating systemic change readiness.  Here are a few simple principles change leaders can adopt and follow to create change readiness at an organisational level.   

A compelling case for change

Articulating a strong and compelling case for change can make or break the success of the change process.  It must be delivered with confidence and clearly outline the benefits of the change for the organisation.  When looking to deliver a change message it is important to consider your audience.  Who is the message meant for?  Do you need to tailor the message to help different people connect with the message? How will it get delivered?  All these questions need to be considered and addressed in developing the right change message.

Leaders’ commitment to change 

The next critical part of building organisational readiness is to demonstrate support and commitment for changes at the top.  People often look towards their leaders for cues for how to respond to change. Where senior leaders are seen to be positive about the changes, staff are much more likely to think of the changes in a positive light. Positivity is contagious and it is important for senior managers to recognise this and create that excitement and positive contagion about the change.

Back up words with action

Senior managers also need to be prepared to back their words with meaningful actions. Leaders need to articulate the new behaviours expected of staff, be the first to display them, and do so repeatedly.  There is no surer way to kill a change process than to have leaders say one thing and do another. 

Ensure systems support change

Systems can either reinforce and sustain behaviour change or derail it.  For an organisation to be change ready its systems must be aligned with the required outcomes.  For example, staff may receive training on how to be more innovative but in the absence of a clear innovation process staff won’t get an opportunity to apply their new skills. 

Systems and processes help to normalise new behaviours and embed them into the way things are done day-to-day. They also help provide much needed stability to the change and are comforting to those who need the structure to thrive. Having the right systems and process in place prior to introducing changes are pivotal for change leaders to consider in ensuring systemic or organisational readiness for change.

 

Enabling individuals and organisations to be change ready is a critical part of change management that many have overlooked.  We have presumed that when change is required we must proceed in a linear fashion and assume that people will follow.  Those who don’t are simply change resistant.   

The world of work presents constant and dynamic change that demands that we are quicker off the mark.  It requires us to be much more insightful about human nature and to know that there are effective strategies that can change the mindset of the so-called resistant and engage them in contributing in a highly productive way to shaping the future changes that bring organisational success.    

So how change ready are you?

Comments

  • Lana Makarov Tuesday, 01 September 2015

    Thank you for a great article, finally I see the 'change curve' being questioned. I could not agree more that change, if presented and approached positively, creates opportunities. Would be great to see an article on strategies to change the mindset of the 'resistant' employees.

  • WellBeing Resource Centre - User 3 Tuesday, 01 September 2015

    Thanks for your comments Lana. Our Director and I were discussing doing an article on change for the next addition so we will take your advice and focus on changing mindsets through change processes. Stay tuned.

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