It’s normal in all change projects to hold the Go / No Go meeting. We move around the table and ask each discipline if they are ready. Core Information Systems? Check. Data Conversion? Check. Interfaces? Check. Facilities? Check. People? Well…um…everyone completed training. STOP!
Change Readiness is not defined by people simply attending training. Rather, the key to change readiness is: Are people ready to do their jobs in the new environment? This is a completely different question. If we only made it a habit to ask and address this question, the degree of success for change initiatives would dramatically rise.
Change Readiness is one of the six major components for successfully leading change. See The System. For large projects there is always a resource on the change leadership team specifically responsible for this component of the project. Change Readiness is that important.
On Time and On Budget
On time and on budget are the time-tested measurements of project success. I’m old fashioned and still refer to the triple constraints regarding project decisions. Time and budget are the two most common constraints. But for large change initiatives, I believe the most important is the third constraint – quality. Being timely and cost effective in managing the project is certainly very important. However, when we’re implementing large change initiatives – which tend to be very public and pivotal to the strategy of the company – an extra month (or three) to ensure readiness if necessary is prudent.
This doesn’t mean that solid change readiness will always add length to the project. When performed properly readiness preparation identifies the types of things that are otherwise forgotten until the last minute.
Change readiness issues clearly fall into the quality constraint. When people (the most intangible component of readiness) aren’t ready, we usually see the most tangible negative results. The reason: the people who aren’t ready are the same ones that interact with our customers. They are the individuals that must react in the heat of the moment in a difficult environment. And when they don’t react well, people notice. Sometimes the people that notice are the business press or a member of your board of directors. Seldom can the real value of a change initiative be realized with only technology. Your people and their readiness are critical.
If your people aren’t ready, should you go forward? Would anyone notice a year from now if everything works well but you delivered two months late? Conversely, if rollout was a disaster, would anyone give you credit a year from now for getting done on time? More likely, what is remembered when reviewing the financials a year later is that the expected benefits just aren’t there.
Readiness is a Choice
There is no doubt that change readiness is hard work. It involves local resources, coordinated centrally. Readiness also involves creativity, which sometimes conflicts with a task-oriented atmosphere. Our experience is that those given responsibility for change initiatives, mainly because of their experience and backgrounds, don’t think about the need for change readiness until it’s too late. When this happens, too high of a burden is placed on the other aspects of the project (like technology) to pull us through.
Notice I used the word choice above. Change readiness starts at the beginning of the project. Choices must be made to set up the structure early. However, if you neglected to officially include readiness in your project plan you have until approximately the mid-point of your project to recover. Making the choice from the beginning to employ change readiness though is the best way to realize the full benefits of your change initiative.
Why would someone say they were ready to go when in fact they aren’t?
It seems illogical that anyone would hesitate to say they aren’t ready when they’re not with so much on the line, but it happens all the time. The culture of the organization is a huge component in this equation. Is openness rewarded within your organization? Would someone appear less than competent if they admitted they weren’t ready to go? How much testosterone is part of your management culture?
Beyond the culture, any successful organization is made up of high achievers. Even if your culture rewards the type of openness and honesty required to say you’re not ready, most everything in these high achievers’ experience makes this admission difficult at best. They got to where they are through hard work. They believe that if they just push a bit harder they can be ready, or handle whatever comes up.
Just like Dr. House in the popular Fox TV series who believes all patients lie, you can’t trust the informal polling process as an accurate measure of change readiness. A comprehensive testing process that engages the entire staff to determine readiness is required. When the bell rings, if people can do their job, you’ve achieved change readiness and implemented a successful change initiative.
We describe Change Readiness in more detail in Change Project Management – The Next Step.