Change management risk assessment is based on the premise that "organisational risk" is the inverse of "change readiness".
In other words, the more ready the organisation is to change, the lower the risk of failure of the change initiative.
So if we establish some useful means for defining and calibrating change readiness then we can take steps to mitigate the likely causes of failure.
In this section, and the associated pages, we will be looking at a number of tools and methods for conducting "soft" and "hard" Change Readiness Assessments, together with other factors, that enable us to gauge an organisation’s capability of, and receptivity toward, a planned change.
An appropriately selected change readiness assessment tool not only informs an initial change management risk assessment, but it also forms a baseline and be can re-administered to measure progress in change readiness - and thus reduction in change management risk - over time.
For a project management based change initiative, these assessments will help to reduce project risk.
The results of these assessments will shape key areas of the change management strategy and plan - specifically the communication strategy.
However, many companies - particularly in North America - do not stop and evaluate lessons leaned from past change initiatives before launching the next one.
In recent interviews a key piece of advice that John Kotter offers is for organisational leaders to take the time to get themselves informed about what does and doesn't work - before launching into action with a change initiative. As he says:
"If you get that knowledge upfront, it can save you great grief and money later on."
The Context of Change Management Risk Assessment
But before we look more closely at approaches and tools for change readiness assessment we need to be understand the context of change management risk assessment and appreciate the significance of a number of inter-related factors:
The marginal rate of change is increasing
The emergence of the flat world and horizontal management
The importance of the emotional dimension of leadership
The importance of the informal networks
The answers are (almost) always at the frontline
Stuck in Jurassic Park
The marginal rate of change is increasing - and continues to do so
We used to believe that change occurs in cycles and waves that ebb and flow. This may be accurate over long time spans of hundreds of years, but in the present the rate of change is continually increasing and this has a significant impact on any change management risk assessment.
Based on his latest researches, Kotter says:
"Many organisations just can't keep up with the speed of change."
This is profoundly important because it is closely linked to another major and frequently overlooked factor...
The emergence of the flat world and horizontal management
I was tempted to headline this point the "death of command and control" - but that is not strictly true as there will always be situations where there is a need for firm direction and senior management edicts for compliance with the legal requirements related to the management and governance of organisations, and also in crisis situations.
However, in the "horizontal world" we now live in, information is available to all and the current and emergent technology infrastructure coupled with the proliferation of social media channels and tools allows for almost immediate dissemination and comment of gossip, opinion and factual information.
The days when decisions affecting many were taken by a few and then imposed on the many are dying - if for no other reason than people want and expect to be involved and they resist change that is imposed upon them. This is self-evident in the failure of 70% of significant change initiatives.
One of the keys to change management risk assessment lies in understanding the extent to which the change leadership are engaging directly with the "informal organisation" - sometimes referred to as the "shadow organisation" - from the outset - from the planning stage right through to implementation and beyond.
Recognition of the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership as part of change management risk assessment
Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change. For example:
- The Kubler Ross grief-cycle otherwise known as the "change roller coaster" which maps the emotional stages that people pass through in their transition through change.
Daniel Goleman and others have stressed the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a message that resonates with their followers' emotional reality and their sense of purpose, and thus motivate them to move in a specific direction.
John Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour - and that happens... "When they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."
- Jon Katzenbach highlights the value of personalising the workplace and making and demonstrating a personal commitment by getting involved and truly understanding what your staff is doing on a daily basis.
- Andy Pearson emphasises how people will respond to their leaders efforts to connect with their emotional side: "Great leaders find a balance between getting results and how they get them."
"A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully."
The importance of the informal networks
Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan, Authors of "Leading outside the Lines" make the important point that:
"...leaders at all levels have a difficult time with, or don’t realize they need to address, a key avenue to success: balancing two distinct dimensions of human behavior and organizational performance—the formal and the informal elements.
Learning how to mobilize the informal elements of an organization to accelerate the formal elements goes a long way in helping leaders fill the gap between intention and results."
Neil Farmer - a leading UK change expert and the leader of 5 major and successful UK corporate change initiatives - points out that whilst the formal organisation determines all routine aspects of what takes place, and in so doing provides the necessary "glue" of stability and repeatability, the shadow or informal organisation largely determines the scope and pace of change and is thus a major factor in change management risk assessment:
"Where the shadow and formal organisations come into conflict in a change situation, the balance of influence in the shadow organisation will almost always win the day."
With the exception of technical, financial and legal issues, the answers to issues relating to successful change planning, change impacts, change implementations and most importantly benefit realisation are to be found at the frontline.
In my own work I have found time and time again that the answers to the most challenging business issues, project and programme failures and performance problems always - without exception lies with the front line staff - those directly involved in "doing it".
Also, the creative solutions to issues identified via change management risk assessment are to be found there as well.
All it takes, in my experience is the time, courtesy and empathic listening to the people at the "coal face" to find out what the issues and impacts are and also to discover what the solutions are.
Stuck in Jurassic Park
The first and biggest step to making all this happen is one that can only be taken by the CEO and senior management of the organisation, and that is to relinquish (or at least relax) "command and control" sufficiently to empower the change leaders to identify and work in collaboration with the informal networks.
In my direct and observed experience, this still seldom happens. The dinosaurs still stalk the corridors of corporate power. The DNA of the leaders and senior management of most organisations (especially large ones) seems to be hard-coded to resist this - thus resistance to truly effective change management risk assessment starts at the top.
Here in the UK at least, this resistance to change in management style reflects the myopia that results from a general business culture fixated on short-term results.
All too often, the only conditions that encourage directors to relax command and control are either the appointment of a new CEO and/or senior management team, or the threat of a fairly major exposure i.e. an issue that is severe enough to create a personal accountability and potentially one that could be politically exploited to the personal detriment of the individual executive.
However, as Kotter's observed rate of change gathers momentum these people will be exposed to ever increasing exposures and will either adapt or follow the fate of their Jurassic predecessors...
In his latest book "A Whole New Mind - Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age" Daniel Pink suggests that:
"There is a seismic — though as yet undetected — shift now under way in much of the advanced world. We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.
The forces driving this shift are globalisation and increasing outsourcing and emergence of lower cost alternatives oveseas, ever increasingly powerful techonologies that render many types of work obsolete, and the deepening desire for non-material personal growth.
The effects of this shift have a direct impact on organisational leadership and management and are directly relevant to change management risk assessment as they are consistent with and have conderable resonance with the increasing understanding and acceptance of the "human dimension" of change that we have already highlighted, and that is illustrated below.
(c) Jim Walters
For a very lucid and brief exploration of what Thomas Friedman ("The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century"), Daniel Pink and other informed futuroligists are saying about this and very specifically how it directly relates to change management risk assessment, please read this excellent article by Jim Walters, EdD, CEM, director of customer relations for Rochester Public Utilities:
As mentioned above, it is absolute nonsense to contemplate - let alone commence - a change initiative without serious reference to your organisations' history of attempting change.
Staggeringly, so many companies – especially in North America – just rush into the next change initiative without debriefing and without conducting a change management risk assessment - and specifically without assessing what did and didn’t work last time, and why.
You need to get that knowledge and insight now, right up front as it can help you repeating past mistakes and failing with this your current initiative.
Your organisations' "change readiness" is best indicated by your organisations' legacy of change initiatives (both those that worked and those that didn't work) as it provides an important early indicator of what lies ahead.
You also need to look at the scars left by successful as well as unsuccessful initiatives as it is crucial to understand and address the scar tissue left by previous initiatives.
There are 2 aspects to a "present assessment": organisational readiness which we will consider in "Reference points and metrics" below; and individual readiness for change.
Individual readiness for change is more complex than it may appear:
Who will be assessed for change readiness?
When will they be assessed?
How will they be assessed and by what criteria?
Stages of concern
Pat Zigarmi and Judd Hoskstra are organisational change experts and co-authors of Ken Blanchard Companies "Leading People Through Change" programme. They have co-authored an excellent article: "Leadership strategies for making change stick" that is based around the results and findings of a major study conducted by Blanchard in 2008 with over 900 training and HR leaders as to how they approach change:
I entirely support their emphasis on the need for change leadership’s involvement with people at all levels – in other words engaging with, and working through, the informal networks and the informal organisation.
And also, their contention that for change to "stick", leaders have to anticipate, un-cover and address the various layers and levels of concerns as and when they arise, and these have been identified as 6 stages of concerns:
(1) Information concerns - what is the change and why is it needed?
(2) Personal concerns - how will the change affect me personally and will I win or lose?
(3) Implementation concerns - what do I do first and how do I manage all the details?
(4) Impact concerns - is the effort worth it and is the change making a difference?
(5) Collaboration concerns - who else should be involved and how do we spread the word?
(6) Refinement concerns - how can we make the change even better?
You will be able to access this excellent 8 page report (PDF format) at the link shown below. Please note, these are free materials but to access them Blanchard require that you register first:
Simply put, the less power and formal influence an employee has the less informed they will be and the greater their range of concerns. Walters' research findings showed that (in the utility sector) there were 3 main gaps between management and non management employees:
(1) Management employees are less ready for change than non-management employees.
(2) A significant difference exists between management and non-management employees' task and impact related concerns for change.
(3) Management employees feel significantly more empowered that non-management employees.
Reference points and metrics in change management risk assessment
Organisational readiness for change is assessed via all of the following:
One of the major reference points in change management risk assessment is the maturity model. This is my personal working definition of a maturity model:
"A maturity model is a structured representation of the stages of evolution of an organisation, as it transition through various developmental states and stages, in response to the impacts of changes in the organisation's operating environment.
This evolution represents progress to more developed or advanced states of learning, insight, understanding and practise that support its strategic goals."
Do you use project management?
Do you use programme management?
Do you know the difference?
Do you know why knowing the difference matters?
What is your organisation's business process maturity?
What is your organisation's change management maturity?
Try this simple test - review the different levels listed below (based on the P3M3 project management maturity model) - firstly in relation to project management and then secondly with programme management – and then across the other areas outlined above and see which best describes your organisation:
No need for consultants - just treat this as a quick thought experiment initially - before examining each area in more depth.
You will find detail and extensive resources on this site via the following links:
Cultural assessment in change management risk assessment
Organisational culture is the single biggest determinant of how an individual will behave within a business or organisational environment. It will over-ride education, intelligence and common sense. Therefore it needs to be an integral aspect of any change management risk assessment.
All too often I have seen many senior people in large organisations, whilst under the influence of the dominant organisational culture, behave in ways that on occasions defied common sense and the "blindingly obvious".
Culture is also a major determinant in how people will react to change and change leaders' attempts to apply "change management" to them.
Any attempt to address organisational culture involves these 3 processes:
Cognition - understanding fully: “what we look like - how we want to look”
Communication - providing the framework and language of change
Change - using appropriate tools, techniques and change processes
Cultural mapping and analysis is a critical aspect of change management risk assessment.
Benefit realisation in change management risk assessment
One of the many reasons that I advocate using a programme management based approach to change is that it focuses on the realisation of benefits.
Any change initiative that does not have clearly defined benefits supported by a benefit realisation plan runs yet another significant and common risk of failure.
This is often occurs where there is a project management driven change initiative, and it occurs because the focus of change management risk assessment is on the delivery of the new capability. This frequently causes change managers to overlook the need to implement plans to ensure that the defined organisational benefits are realised.
The failure - by change leaders - to identify and take full account of the impact of a change initiative on those people who will be most impacted by it is another major reason for change failure and thus another significant component of change management risk assessment.
For change initiatives that comprise one or more projects and that will be delivered within a project management framework, project complexity is another significant aspect of change management risk assessment.
Statistically the size of the project, the scope of project and the duration of the project all contribute to project complexity and increased risk. See this brief summary:
Two other important perspectives are your organisations legacy with projects which will be reflected in your organisation's level of project management maturity all of which can simply be stated as your organisational capability.
The outline above has sought to highlight the various dimensions and perspectives that need to be addressed in any serous and realistic assessment of change management risk and individual and organisational change readiness.
The first and obvious place to start a change management risk assessment is with an examination of your organisation’s change legacy.
There is no prescriptive method for doing this, but I would recommend looking at all project debriefing and wrap-up reports, I would look closely at benefit realisation (or lack of it), change impacts, what worked and what didn’t and why, with reference to the views and opinions of those directly involved in the attempted implementations
I would also pay particularly close attention to the views and opinions of those directly impacted by the initiatives - those people working at the frontline.
Questionnaires, web-based tools and maintenance software, group and individual discussions, can undertake present assessments of individual readiness for change. Examples of some these tools are shown and discussed in:
Present assessments of organisational readiness can and should include an organisational assessment against each of the maturity models discussed. This does not need to be a lengthy exercise but can be undertaken quickly and informally. The purpose at this stage is simply to quickly formulate some reasonably solid reference points and to assess your organisation’s reasonable and realistic capability in each of these areas.
Having read and absorbed the Practitioners Masterclass materials, and having familiarised yourself with the material on this site, you will understand that structured and comprehensive assessment of organisational culture, benefit realisation, and impact assessment are all addressed as an integral part of the programme based change model and methodology that I recommend.
The whole question of project complexity - specifically with reference to and in the context of organisational capability – in relation to change readiness, is addressed in detail in: