Transformational Readiness Model: Improving the Likeliness of Change Success

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This is the first article in a series of six focused on the Evolution of Human Capital.

Ask any executive if they have change, transformation, reorganization on their agenda and without exception, they are certain to reply:  YES.  With the pace of change breathing down the necks of all organizations, even the most successful know that they must adapt, transform, keep up the pace in order to compete.  This applies equally to public, private, even not-for-profit organizations. Having spent years leading, subjected to, and participating in change initiatives, I have watched repeated episodes of less than stellar success with transformation projects.  At best, minimal change occurred but appeared tenuous.  At its worst, internecine war erupted.  These repeated unsuccessful results inspired me to consider the root causes of change failure and determine what could be done to improve the likelihood of success.

The marginal success of change efforts has been well-documented.  Booz Allen suggests that change is implemented successfully in one-half of all transformation initiatives.  John Kotter is less optimistic in reporting that he sees change efforts failing 70% of the time. When asked, these and other leading change experts attribute failure to:

  • Too many competing priorities leading to fatigue
  • Poor track record at successfully implementing prior change
  • Employee skepticism at all levels
  • Communication issues stemming from limited leadership alignment
  • Lack of trust – in leadership, in change objectives or the organization itself.

Post mortems typically do not indict the transformation strategy, direction or intended outcomes as the cause of failure.  There is no lack of direction on how to change.  Kotter, Kanter, Lewan, and La Marsh are just a few providing roadmaps which should lead to the desired end state/outcomes.  What appears to be the underlying issue when success is illusive is that organizations simply do not know how to get ready for big or little change.  All too frequently, leadership arrives at the need, evaluates options and then declares change will occur. Much effort is invested in making the change however, too little energy is devoted to getting the organization and its people ready.  Change is hard and preparation for making the plunge is vital.

The Transformational Readiness Model (TRM) includes six elements which, not only contribute to change success, but also improve productivity, reduce cycle time and enhance employee engagement.  

The fundamental TRM elements include:

Resilience – What is “the state of the state” within the organization?  What is the bounce back-ability of the teams impacted?  Can the impacted teams muster the energy to take on new, and different battles? How much is turmoil driving change?  What is the source of the turmoil? Are employees sufficiently engaged to learn, support and undertake the necessary heavy lifting of moving from the current reality to the new reality?  Consideration needs to be given to the individual’s resilience as well as that of the team.  Take nothing for granted.  As Garmezy’s research points out resilience is a constant balancing act between ability to deal and stressors.  Psychological, environmental, disposition factors all come into play as does luck (happenstance).

Risk Tolerance – This is a very sensitive environmental factor to consider.  Leadership needs to fully assume responsibility for what is at stake for the employees, the brand, and key stakeholders.  A responsibility of leadership is to assess just how far, how fast and WIIFM (what’s in it for me) the group can be driven. Public opinion on what matters is another essential consideration. Leadership must be able to answer the question for themselves and to stakeholders alike: how much can we risk and what happens if we fail?

Reward & Recognition - A traditional role for HR in change programs is to drive cost and headcount reductions, push metrics to seek greater productivity and assess who goes and who stays.  A key consideration at the outset however is “what to reward” and “when” throughout the change process.  Ongoing recognition of progress needs to be built into the process of change.  Change is hard work and should be rewarded incrementally. As a cautionary note, leadership (with the assistance of HR) should be mindful that what is rewarded often materializes.  For example, if cost containment objectives are handsomely rewarded, be aware that the organization’s efforts will quickly tip in favor of ratcheting down costs – irrespective of unintended consequences.  

Strategic Direction – Strategy is owned by the C-suite or its designees.  Not only are they responsible for designing and defining the vision, they also own communicating the rationale.  Leaders must be convincing outside of the boardroom. Leaders must demonstrate that the strategy’s rationale is well founded, meaningful and appropriate.  Designing strategy is relatively easy when compared to securing commitment throughout the organization.  Leadership’s public role starts in earnest when the change is announced and that’s when the tough sledding begins.  Clarity of purpose and the ability to convey where the organization is headed takes a great deal of time and effort.

Conflict Resolution – Cultural guardrails on how to address conflicts are essential to effective and productive interaction.  People of good hearts and minds can and should disagree.  However, the organization must provide clear and well-defined rules in order to guide effective discourse.  HR can help ensure that the rules of the road are clear to all and should identify potential sources of conflict in advance.  Conflict can arise between two individuals, within a department or team, or at the organizational level.  Rules of the road are critical so all participants know how to disagree and resolve conflict – with a positive outcome and minimal casualties.

Decision Making – Employee engagement surveys consistently rank management decision making as a low rated function.  Decisions come in many sizes – a process for decision making should incorporate scope, scale and situation. Roles and responsibilities need to be defined and reinforced: Who decides what? Who gets to participate in the dialogue? When do the impacted parties receive information? Governance of decision making can and usually results in highlighting inconsistencies, identifying those who hold too much/too little authority, or spotlighting situations where anarchy reigns.

Change Readiness Graphic

The coalition of Human Resources professionals (Talent Management, Learning & Development, Business Partners) can play a pivotal role during change initiatives.  They can best support the organization by preparing for change as a constant in our world. The investment in developing TRM principles will have enormous payoff – at any point in time.   Addressing the elements of Transformation Readiness should begin whether change is at the doorstep, a new leader arrives, or employee engagement improvement is sought.

Transformation success in large part depends upon the organization’s ability to invite team members along for the ride – wild, and unpredictable as it might be.  Those charged with onboarding new employees into the organizational culture, those delivering knowledge and skill attainment activities and those charged with acquiring the right talent all have perfect entry points for implementation of the Transformation Readiness Model.  Human Resources can drive the process of capturing the critical questions to ask about the change initiative as well assume responsibility for crafting efforts to ensure the organization is ready to change.

In summary, the Transformational Readiness Model, when implemented intentionally, can enhance the potential for change success.  This work can also bring focus to the culture’s infrastructure, and internal processes which are essential to transformation.  TRM can help increase productivity, reduce lag times based on uncertainty and give clear path to addressing employee engagement issues.  

HR – this is an essential function for our profession and an important opportunity to contribute to organizational success.  It’s never too late to begin.  Let’s recognize we have tools to enhance and enable change in a much more successful manner than has traditionally been experienced.

© Copyright Jeanette K Winters, 2018