When Shakespeare wrote for Hamlet his famous line ‘readiness is all’, he certainly wasn’t thinking about teachers implementing Chromebooks in the 21st century, but the phrase (and its translation ‘what’s important is to be prepared’) is a great piece of advice for those of us living in changing times.
All people have different levels of openness to change based on things like the context, our previous experiences, our personality type and whether we prefer the familiar or the novel. (Robbins, 2005). However, in a fast-moving world (where change is constant) we must all be ready to embrace change to varying degrees. For educators, this change might be the implementation of new, high potential technologies, new research findings related to pedagogy, or new practices as a result of the changing needs of our learners.
Readiness for change
Our level of readiness for change directly influences our individual decisions to either resist or support a change effort (Choi, 2011). So what increases a person’s readiness for change? Researchers point to three things:
- a belief that change is needed, and
- a belief that the proposed change is appropriate for the challenge at hand, and
- a belief that the organisation has the capacity to implement the change (Choi, 2011).
Let's look at each in a bit more detail.
Is change needed?
The first condition centres around establishing a 'why' for the change (sometimes called 'a sense of urgency') and this often involves looking at things such as:
- Your organisation's vision and values and how well these are being enacted
- Data and evidence that what we say we value is actually what is happening on the ground,
- Changes taking place in the wider environment that may impact on your work: new technologies, changing community or demographic contexts, new policy directions etc.
- Self-review process which may identify areas that need further attention or different approaches.
However you do it, you should explore the drivers that sit behind the change so that everybody involved in the change should be able to answer the question “Why are we doing this?”
Is the proposed change appropriate for the challenge at hand?
The second element that increases a person’s level of change readiness is for them (or us) to believe that the proposed change is appropriate for the challenge at hand. There are two key elements here: the first is about the level of fit with the organisation, the second is about the likelihood that this change is right for this challenge.
The level of ‘cultural fit’ is essentially the degree to which this change is appropriate to your organisation. The link to your organisation's vision and culture is important, because organisations that try to adopt change initiatives that run counter to who they are, seldom find success- even in cases where that same change has been successful elsewhere. Changes that are ‘low-cultural fit’ rarely succeed in the long term, often being ceremonially adopted, significantly adapted or simply abandoned (Canato, A., Ravasi, D., & Phillips, N.,2013).
A second way that leaders can increase people's sense that a given change is appropriate is to make be participatory and transparent in the process by which the decision is made to proceed. This is about making visible the factors that guided the choice of a given change effort in comparison with other possible courses of action. It's a public examination of the pros and cons so others can see the reasoning at work. It might also include helping people to understand the research that has informed thinking.
Can we successfully implement this change?
The third component of change readiness is a belief that the organisation has the capability and capacity to successfully implement the proposed change. This component can sabotage sensible, well-planned change initiatives: imagine an organisation that knows change is needed, believes that the proposed change is the right one, but is so disillusioned about prior attempts at change that they still think it is going to fail. It's a recipe for disillusionment and cynicism about change.
There are a number of different things that leaders can do to increase an organisation’s sense of self-efficacy when it comes to implementing change:
- Ensure that every change is well considered, thoroughly researched and carefully implemented. False starts, or misguided initiatives can be potentially damaging.
- Provide timely and adequate information about the change (McKay, K., Kuntz, J., & Näswall, K., 2013). This consists of keeping everyone informed about transactional 'small picture' details (timeframes, consultation periods, scope and sequence etc.) as well as overarching 'big picture' considerations (big trends driving the change, alignment with current practices, research informing decision-making etc.)
- Establish participatory decision-making processes (where participants are part of the problem-finding as well as the problem-solving).
- Prototype wherever possible. This helps to build participants' sense of self-efficacy around small changes, ultimately increasing their appetite for larger ones.
One of the key challenges surrounding the building of change readiness is that it is difficult to do any of this quickly: if an organisation doesn't have a sense of urgency about change today, it's unlikely to suddenly develop one tomorrow. Similarly if individuals are disillusioned about the failure of previous change initiatives, it takes time for this self-confidence to return. One of the clear implications for change leaders is that readiness for change should be constantly and carefully developed well before change is needed. Paradoxically, by the time change is upon you, it may well be too late.
As a way of exploring your level of change readiness (either as an individual or as an organisation) consider a change initiative you’re undertaking ask these questions:
- Why is change needed?
- Is this change right for our organisation?
- What confidence do we have that the change will meet the challenge at hand?
- Do we believe we can successfully implement this change? If not, what support will be needed?
Woven through all of these finds are the notions of transparency and participation. These build trust in an organisation, and in the leaders taking that organisation through the change process. Trusting and believing in the people who are leading your organisation is perhaps the most important precursor to taking the first step.
Canato, A., Ravasi, D., & Phillips, N. (2013). Coerced Practice Implementation in Cases of Low Cultural Fit: Cultural Change and Practice Adaptation During the Implementation of Six Sigma at 3M. Academy of Management Journal, 56(6), 1724–1753.
Choi, M. (2011). Employees’ attitudes toward organizational change: A literature review. Human Resource Management, 50(4), 479–500. http://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.20434
McKay, K., Kuntz, J., & Näswall, K. (2013). The effect of affective commitment, communication and participation on resistance to change: The role of change readiness. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(2).
Robbins, S. P. (2005). Essentials of organizational behavior (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mark Osborne is presenting a session on Leading Transformative Change at the coming Emerging Leaders' Summit (ELS) in June. These are to be run in both Auckland and Wellington.
Check out the details:
Mark is the founder of the Emerging Leader's Summit event in New Zealand.