Ready, Willing and Able

Ready, Willing and Able

Because change has always been with us, CIOs and consultants have had plenty of time to develop methods for assessing it. Assessing change readiness falls into two categories: the micro level (looking at the skills and attitudes of team members) and the macro level (looking at the corporation's culture and history).

What you're fundamentally trying to learn at the outset is the readiness, willingness and ability of both individuals on their own and the staff as a whole to tackle change. How flexible are they? How adaptable are they? How well do they balance multiple responsibilities? The immediate problem is discerning the difference between what they say and what they mean. Some may say they're ready, but are they really able yet? Some may say they're willing, but you have to determine whether they're telling you just what you want to hear.

The CIO is like a doctor hitting a patient's knee with a rubber hammer, checking reflexes. "Is the group so preoccupied with day-to-day firefighting that the mention of change makes them barf on the floor?" asks John Keast, former CIO for PG&E Corp. in San Francisco and now an executive vice president at Asera Inc., a Belmont, Calif.-based consulting firm focusing on b2b projects. "If someone is snowed under, they're never going to have the mental bandwidth to wrap their mind around the new thing."

Barbra Cooper, group vice president and CIO of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., has spent years sharpening her techniques for eliciting the information she wants. If she's trying to determine how well her team can deal with rapid change, for instance, she'll inquire about their hobbies. Someone who's a weekend soccer coach will adapt differently to being on a team than someone who's a chess player. She also gets into the experiential, asking about how they reacted to challenges they encountered previously. "I ask about times they felt they didn't have enough information or resources and how they worked through the situation," she says. "I try to get them to talk through it, and by doing that, I get them to elicit commentary about how much fortitude they have."

Charles Goldwasser, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, concurs with Cooper's tack, but suggests a follow-up step. After determining attitudes, create a map that shows how individuals are impacted by the change, what their level of support is and what level of influence they have in the organization. Then target your activities on influential supporters who can win over those who don't support the change.

Willingness is more than a matter of one's eagerness to do something; it's also the enthusiasm for learning what's required. Says Bruce Blitch, CIO for Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc., a Phoenix chemical firm: "It's not what they know; it's what they're willing to learn." But he never blatantly asks if his staff is willing to learn, because "everyone's going to say yes. They're going to have to prove it." He'll tackle the question in a roundabout way, asking about a new technology rather than commanding someone to learn it. He'll ask: "What if we tackled such-and-such? You might have to learn so-and-so. What do you think?" If people are willing to test their boundaries, he says, they're infinitely more valuable than those who say they have their Microsoft certification and believe that their lives are complete.

This article was originally published on 08-01-2001
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