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What Is Change Readiness?

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The concept of change readiness is often misunderstood by many people. It is sometimes confused with two different concepts, namely:

Compliance – people sometimes think people are ready for change if they are willing to go along with some new initiative. They may comply because they agree with the proposed initiative and see some value in it; they may comply because they have no power to prevent the proposed change; or they may comply because there could be negative consequences if they do not comply.

Program readiness – people sometimes think others are ready for change if they are ready to engage in some kind of program designed to help them change. For example, an employee lacking in motivation may be considered ready for change if he or she expresses a readiness to engage in motivational interviewing, or readiness to attend some kind of training program.

Of course, it is possible that people who are ready for change are compliant and/or ready to engage in programs. However, it is equally possible that people who are ready to comply, or ready to do a program are not ready to change. Actually, you cannot tell whether a person is ready based solely on their compliance or program readiness.

Why is a person’s compliance or program readiness not a good indicator of change readiness? It not a good indicator because readiness is not about what people do, but it is rather about why they do what they do, and the readiness resources they have at their disposal. The main point to understand is that people are ready for change if they are able to act as their own agents of change. Change readiness is exactly what it says – readiness to change, as distinct from readiness to be changed. People may comply or attend programs, but if they do these things only because they are forced into doing so, they are not really ready at all. They may be ready to be changed, but they are not acting as their own agent in the process. They are not acting as change leaders. They are allowing others to set the agenda for them. They may comply, but inside they may also resent what they are being asked to do, and they may actively or passively resist the proposed initiative.

Why would people allow others to set the agenda? There are two main possibilities. On the one hand, people lacking the change readiness resources to enable them to act as their own agent of change in a given situation may not engage in change unless they are forced to do so. On their own, they may not seriously contemplate changing in a particular way, perhaps due to lack of awareness of any need to change, or other factors like a lack of motivation. On the other hand, they may not support the proposed change and therefore may be unwilling to actively engage with it. In this situation, people may actively resist the change, or, if they are forced to comply with it, they may engage in passive-aggressive behaviours in an effort to undermine the change (or other people).

What does this say about change readiness? It says that people who are ready for change are able to act as their own agent of change. Even if changes are imposed on them; even if they are compliant; they are still able to act as their own agent of change so long as they possess a particular set of psychological resources and are able to tell empowering stories about the change.

Finally, it is important to make three points clear. First, the person with change readiness strengths is not a different kind of person to those who aren’t so ready for change. All people can develop change readiness, if they have commitment to do so. Second, people might be ready for change in one situation, but not ready in another situation. A person might be ready for change at one particular time, yet not ready at another time. However, the point is that people with change readiness strengths are more likely to be ready for change in more places and at more times than people lacking in change readiness. It’s a bit like a marathon runner. He may not always be ready to run a marathon, but he will always be more ready than a person who can only run 100 metres. Third, whilst a person’s apparent compliance or program readiness is not a good indicator of their change readiness, IRVEY™ is a reliable, simple, and cost-effective tool for profiling change readiness. To learn more, visit our website.

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