Prepare for Change: Don't Inhale Underwater!

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Jeff Cole

How ready is your organization for change? How ready are you personally? This month, columnist Jeff Cole dives in - quite literally - to the topic of change readiness and how it can impact the success of your next project.

Recently I harkened back to a poolside episode when I was a small child. While I was very content to splash around in my 8" deep inflatable backyard toddler pool, going to the local "big boy" half-acre pool was pretty intimidating for a 4-year old. To say this non-swimmer had some reservations about going to the deep end was an understatement. Reluctantly, I agreed to sit on the edge and dangle my legs (what harm could come from that?). Some shiny object must have caught my attention and I twisted around to see it. It was then I slipped into the pool (in water over my head!) and learned a profound life lesson – while underwater, do not inhale.

It all worked out ok as my big brother’s enormous hands materialized and yanked me to safety. However, I had been instantly thrust into this totally foreign environment with no degree of preparedness and (naively) no foresight that it may even happen. Had I anticipated this event and been prepared, I have to believe my day would have gone much more pleasantly. Change is tricky that way. It can be on you like a flash or as slow as continental drift. Wanted or unwanted. You can be prepared or not prepared, blindsided or well informed. It’s food for thought for those of us driving change in organizations.

Lean Six Sigma is really about driving change – large process improvements in a business. People will need to stop doing things the old way and start doing them the new way. Metaphorically, some will shy away or maybe stick their toe in the change pool. They may perceive the change as a threat, have some reservations or fear, and are not yet ready to engage in that change. Others will be doing cannon-balls and belly-flops into your change. They perceive that same change as an opportunity and have a high degree of readiness. How do we get everybody into the pool? The answer is to think ahead, start early, and solidly place the topic of change readiness on your radar.

Change readiness is the degree to which the people, processes, information, and technology on the receiving end of this change are prepared to receive the change and efficiently, effectively engage. On the human side, that occurs at two levels – the general population who are impacted (recipients of the change) and you and your team (the drivers of the change).

Generally you want to start early in the project by clearly identifying the people and segments of your organization that will be impacted to varying degrees. At the appropriate time, you can administer and analyze a change readiness assessment. Based on your findings, you can employ the proper strategies for rollout.

There are several of these assessments you can choose from and purchase on the internet. Alternatively you can experiment and build your own. They typically involve a survey with a 5-10 point Likert scale. The leadership and change team completes surveys as do the recipients of the change. Common categories of a change readiness assessment include looking at:

  • Sponsorship’s ability and willingness
  • Individuals impacted & how they view the change
  • Support systems & processes
  • Change plan itself
  • Organization structure and policies
  • Resources
  • Organizational culture
  • Alignment with vision, values, and plans
  • Team implementing the change
  • Change saturation

The number of individual questions in such an assessment can range from 20 to over 100 depending on the depth you wish to probe. For example, when assessing the change team, individual questions could be used such as:

  • To what extent does the change team possess the skills, knowledge, and experience required to drive this change successfully? (could be scored as 3 separate questions)
  • To what extent is the change team willing to focus on all the work necessary to make this change successful?
  • To what extent are the members of the change team trusted and respected by the target population?

The results from this can feed into your overall risk plans, communication plans, and master project plan. It’s not always full speed ahead. If the organization is not at the proper state of readiness, you run a higher risk of failure with your rollout. Strategies to mitigate the risk include: phased implementation, changing where the pilot will be done, resourcing and staffing decisions, education and communications, altering the timing or sequence of various changes, policy or support system changes, etc.

If you are heads-down in creating an awesome, new Lean Six Sigma process improvement, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that maybe not everybody impacted is as familiar with, excited about, or even ready for the change as you are. Employing a simple change readiness assessment can help you get everybody "into the pool" in as fast and painless a way possible!