Thursday, May 30, 2013

Four Ways To Know whether You Are Ready For Change

Which companies have the edge?
In our experience, the companies most likely to be successful in making change work to their advantage are the ones that no longer view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business. Change readiness should be the new change management.

What is change readiness?
Change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance. The age-old challenge: balancing the tension between the internal and external focus required to do all three equally. This continuous and integrated approach to change requires the coordinated participation of everyone in the company, not just a few change agents or change leaders.

Old theories no longer work
Our understanding of change has remained fundamentally intact since the innovative work of Lewin in the 1940s. Likewise, the concept of change management as a process or reorganizing, restructuring, and reengineering which evolved incrementally over two decades.

Leaders know these theories no longer work, and even seem crazy considering how much the marketplace and corporate environments have changed in the same period. Product lifecycle has never been so compressed, nor the need to innovate so fierce.

No 10-step change management process is going to help in a crisis of the magnitude of BP's oil spill, and while that example may be extraordinary, it does illustrate the need for change readiness vs. change management.

70% failure rate: something needs to be fixed
The discrepancy in the accelerated rate of change and the outdated change management practices still employed today unarguably have much to do with the 70% failure rate of change initiatives – a dismal statistic validated by study after study. Failure rates this high demand a new mindset and new actions, but before you can improve your change readiness, you must first assess current change awareness, agility, reactions, and mechanisms.

1. Change Awareness

Change Awareness is a company's ability to redefine itself as necessary. This contextual focus is critical to innovation – the right product at the right time. Good change awareness practices include scanning the environment for opportunities, focusing on emerging trends, and planning for the future.

Questions to ask

• Does your company have people responsible for regularly assessing the market for new opportunities and market changes?

• Does your company proactively search for opportunities for brand renewal and product innovation?

2. Change Agility

Change agility represents your company's ability to engage people in pending changes. This is an internal focus that is critical to the company's ability to effectively implement identified innovations. A great idea won't matter if you can't muster the capacity and commitment to carry it through. An organization with good change agility has the capacity to stretch when necessary and quickly shift resources to the place they will make the most difference. Leadership should inspire confidence and trust, and consistently.

Questions to ask

• How agile is your company? 

• How effective are your managers at engaging and delivering the changes envisioned by your decision makers? 

How well does your company actually facilitate and execute on change when it is needed?

3.  Change Reaction

Change reaction is the ability to appropriately analyze problems, assess risks, and manage the reactions of employees. This internal focus ensures your company can sustain the day-to-day business while reacting in a timely and appropriate manner to self-initiated and market-dictated change.

Questions to ask

• How effectively do you and other leaders at your company assess risk and manage unplanned change? 

• How well does your organization react and respond to crisis?

4. Change Mechanisms

Change Mechanisms should encourage clear goal alignment across functions, the ability to integrate a change into existing systems, accountability for results, and reward systems that reinforce desired change behaviors. This contextual focus is critical to the ability to implement desired change with no interruption to daily operation.

Questions to ask

• Are your structures and systems flexible enough to adapt and support the implementation of change? 

• Does your organization have the structures and systems in place to support the successful implementation of change?

We have found that managers at successful companies are asking themselves questions like these in the effort to build a capacity for change readiness instead of change management.

How are you working to increase your company's change readiness?

For more information on change management, please visit our website at or email us at


This post was extracted from an article by Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe, originally published  the the Harvard Business Review's HBR Blog Network.

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