Implementation · Leading change

Rating a team’s readiness for change

I have just written a couple of articles about understanding a team’s existing world. But how does that relate to the likelihood of a new initiative being adopted?

How do we actually know if a particular group will accept, adopt and sustain a new way of working? And what can we do to increase the likelihood of successfully implementing the change?

One approach comes from the Managing Innovation and Technical Change course in the Master of Business and Technology degree at UNSW. Its an excellent course, and you can do it online, but have to enrol in a masters degree and do several units before you can study this one.

So here is a summarised version, based on the research by two groups of academics:

  • Zaltman G, Duncan R & Holbek J (1973, Developing the Global Organization: Strategies for Human Resource Professionals, Wiley, New York); and
  • Tornatzky L & Klein K (1982, ‘Innovation characteristics and innovation adoption-implementation: A meta-analysis of findings’, IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 28-45).

Roughly speaking, the first group identified six key factors in successful (or unsuccessful) adoption of change and the second group studied which three factors were the most important.

It turns out that the most important three factors for predicting whether a group will adopt a change are:

  • Perceived relative advantage: Is this an improvement? Do the group believe that this change will make the world a better place?
  • Complexity (or ease of understanding): Can the members of the group make sense of this change? How hard or simple is it to understand?
  • Compatibility: How compatible is this change with the way the group operate? Or with their culture and practices? 

The remaining three powerful, though not quite as powerful, factors are:

  • Trial-ability: Can the group try the change out safely? Can the group do some experiments to see what happens?
  • Observe-ability: Will the group be able to see the impact of the change? How will they know that the benefits are being realised?  
  • Re-invention or customisation: Can the group adapt the change to their own way of doing things? Can the group modify the change to make it their own?

Assessing these factors allows us to rate the “predicted interaction” of a change with different stakeholder groups. Which then allows us to better focus our effort in driving the change.

To turn this information into a technique:

  1. Segment your stakeholders into useful groups (say the accounts department, our development team, middle management and senior management). 
  2. List the key components of the project we are rolling out (say a new tool, a new process and a new team structure with new roles). 
  3. Create a table for each stakeholder showing the changes at the top and the factors on the left.
  4. Rank the alignment between the change and the factor for the group (or the likelihood of adoption if you prefer to think of it that way). For example you can use a 1-5 ranking where 1 means hard/poor alignment and 5 means excellent.

The ratings can then be used to:

  • Predict smooth sailing and trouble; and
  • Review low scores by asking “what needs to happen to lift this number” and focussing your effort accordingly.

For example, this might be the table for middle managers:

Factor New tool New process New roles
Relative advantage 2 3 2
Compatibility 4 4 1
Easy to understand 2 2 2
Trial-ability 5 4 1
Observe-ability 3 2 4
Ability to customise 2 2 2


The approach is subjective, so you might want to get the input of several people in determining the rating. But I have found it very effecting in predicting where the challenges will come in rolling out change.

Clearly, the teams with the lowest scores will “resist” the change the most.

However, you might find that rather than deliberately resisting the change, they struggle more than other groups because they don’t really understand how the new process works, or they struggle because it is not at all compatible with the way the work.

Now, rather than simply thinking they are “the tough group” to work with you have some concrete things to work on. You can focus on the areas where your effort will make the most difference.

And you might find some teams where you can hope for easy adoption to get some momentum and evidence of the benefits (or early warning signs that your change is not such a good idea after all).

My next article is simply a (fictional) example of applying this technique over a cup of coffee.


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