How to assess your organization's change readiness and why it's an indispensable step you can't afford to skip

By Alison Szetho | July 7, 2020

At a time when we’re having to endure massive and unprecedented changes to the way we work, it can be tempting to skip important steps in the interest of getting business back to “normal.” But these steps are the key to long-term success for major change initiatives.

Assessing an organization’s change readiness is often skipped for several reasons. People in your organization may be feeling survey fatigue, or you don’t have the time or resources to create the assessment process. Sometimes leadership can be uncomfortable with hearing if the audience isn’t ready for change, and there can often be external pressures to move ahead with the change as quickly as possible.

In previous articles we discussed the guiding principles behind positive change initiatives, as well as the role of change readiness assessments, what exactly they measure, and what they can tell you about where and how effort needs to be invested in order to ensure a successful outcome for change initiatives.

In this article we’ll examine the best practices for conducting change readiness assessments and the widespread benefits of this important foundational stage.

Best practices for conducting change readiness assessments

Finding out whether your organization is willing and able to change requires a deep dive into people’s attitudes, behaviors, and day-to-day realities. Even for the most technical of change programs, success ultimately comes down to acceptance and use by people. Here are some of the best practices for accurately measure the commitment and capability of your organization:

  1. Use a tailored, creative approach to data collection. Conduct an audit of the thoroughness of previous change content and strategies. How successful were previous changes? How much value did they yield? Where did they fall short? Observe the kinds of behavior that will reveal actions taken in the face of new change. How do people respond to small changes to their routine? Conduct one-on-one and group interviews to directly solicit feedback from employees about potential future changes. Do they understand the reasons for the change, do they value the change? Conduct surveys with Likert response items that can measure attitudes on a scale of one to five, as well as open-ended items that allow people to share the extent of their individual thoughts and feelings. Tailor your assessment strategies to your organization and get a little creative with collection methods. There is a science to data collection, but the art is how we go about collecting it.
  2. Involve employees across a broad spectrum of the business. Change affects everyone differently. For some employees, a proposed change may have little impact on their daily routine whereas for others, it can significantly alter the way they’re used to working. Involve people from different sectors and hierarchies throughout the business to gain the most complete picture. You may be surprised to discover just how widespread the impact of a change can be. Change also impacts groups in different ways, so it’s important to gather input from all those impacted to avoid a biased view. Involving a broad spectrum of people has a secondary benefit too. People are much more likely to be supportive of a change if they feel that they’ve been consulted and have had some kind of control or influence over the outcome.
  3. Invest in educating the organization and shifting mindsets. One of the biggest challenges for organizations wanting to implement change is shifting the mindset to prioritize spending effort upfront in order to minimize later re-work and re-design, and maximize the program’s success. Leverage the experience of an industry partner to educate the organization and shift attitudes and mindsets towards the importance of focusing on the people side of change. Such a partner is also a crucial asset for obtaining unbiased data about your organization’s people and resources. It goes without saying that change readiness information can only guide you through a successful program of change if it forms an accurate picture of where your organization is prior to the change.

The benefits of change readiness assessments

The primary benefit of conducting a change readiness assessment is gaining an accurate picture of where your organization stands before making a change to set up your change initiatives for success. Is your business and are your employees willing and able to make the change? Which specific areas need more work before you can move ahead?

But there are some valuable secondary benefits of change readiness assessments too. In addition to serving as a data-gathering tool, they can be used as a vehicle to share information and communicate any upcoming change(s) to employees, making it more likely for change programs to be understood and accepted. They can also be used to demonstrate leadership commitment to getting a change right, to encourage active participation, establish a sense of ownership of the change by employees, and to foster the right values, perspectives, and approaches that underpin successful change.

Properly planning for change isn’t just about data collection. It’s about interacting with your people—the most important dimension of change initiatives—in a dynamic and genuine way. This human-centric orientation is the best way to set your organization up for success.