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How Change-Readiness Skills Support Difficult Change

Many difficult change efforts require some degree of adopting new thinking habits, behaviors, and responses. Because the change is harder, it is not uncommon to find a wide variety of resistance responses in those cases. An important "family" of skills can help successfully change the way people respond to the discomfort associated with difficult change.

Different tools help with different needs. Most Change Leaders are well versed with need-analysis and identifying which skills individuals, teams, and organizations need to adopt in order to improve performances and achieve desired outcomes. We are familiar with a wide variety of skills including (and far from limited to) communication, conflict resolution, creativity, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork, time-management, planning, and interviewing just to name a few. What most of us were never taught is that this wide variety of performance-related skills belong to only one "group" or "family" of skills. There is a second, different group, designed for a different purpose, that includes a whole other set of skills.

While it may be safe to say that skills in the first group are designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our performances, the second group is designed to improve and often transform the way we respond to change. High mastery levels of skills in this second group means you will respond effectively when difficult change is required. Low mastery levels of skills in this second group result in responses that block the ability to adopt needed changes (giving this group the name "Change-Readiness Skills"). Like the skills in the performance-related group, the list is long. It includes skills like Multiple Truths, Combining Expectations with Togetherness, Effective Control, and Deliberate Response to name a few. Aside for the the fact the names of these skills are somewhat unfamiliar, Change-Readiness skills focus on two critical aspects that put them in a category of their own:

  • Change-Readiness Skills are designed as prerequisite for acquiring performance-related skills.

  • Change-Readiness Skills are designed to improve the way people respond to discomfort associated with change.

Why are Change-Readiness Skills often a prerequisite for acquiring performance-related skills?

Imagine two leaders seek to improve how their teams interact during meetings. The challenge for both is similar, decisions are not being made effectively because during meetings team members are either ignored or don't speak up and critical information is missed as a result. Both leaders would like to see more inclusive discussions, team members playing devil's advocates, and better open, non-biased listening from everyone involved. Needless to say, there is extensive knowledge about relevant performance-related skills. It will serve both leaders well to know which meeting management practices would be more effective than others. A few relevant performance-related skills in this case may include providing a clear agenda in advance for people to process issues and prepare, asking questions that prompt deeper discussion, and being inclusive.

Change-Readiness Skills do not focus on specific effective performances. Instead, they focus on which skills will be needed for performance skills to be acquired. This other type of skills is about the unique "changeability" skills teams or individuals have or need to acquire more of. To get a more intuitive sense of what this means, imagine each of the above two teams has relatively low mastery of different Change-Readiness Skills.

The first team needs to acquire greater mastery of Combining Expectations with Togetherness which is basically the ability to feel sufficiently comfortable with other people's discomfort. It is an emotional skill. Individuals or teams with low mastery levels of this skill may be conflict avoidant and may choose not to speak up or say things they think, to avoid the discomfort associated with potential disagreement. This will affect how involved they'll be in meetings but may also affect how they give or receive feedback, how they cope with conflicts and much more. These team members may easily acquire highly effective listening skills but, because of their insufficient mastery of Combining Expectations with Togetherness, they will very likely find it difficult to adopt effective behaviors associated with playing devil's advocates, for example. They'll most likely need to acquire the deeper Change-Readiness Skill before they can fully adopt the responses associated with effective performance in team meetings.

At the same time, imagine the second team needs greater mastery of a skill called Multiple Truths instead. This too is a deep emotional skill. When people sufficiently master Multiple Truths they can comfortably accept conflicting perspectives and since they value the limitations of perspectives, they tend to be open to exploring disagreement or conflicts in unbiased ways. People with low mastery levels of this skill tend to think in "black and white" or "right and wrong." They may become stubborn, dogmatic, and often to opt not to cooperate when others don't disagree with their perspective. They tend to be uncomfortable being wrong and do not tend to invite disagreement or feedback. This team will probably find it much easier to play devil's advocates. However, they will typically need to acquire the ability to be comfortable with multiple truths before they can fully adopt inclusive behaviors as well as practicing active listening and asking questions that genuinely build an open discussion.

While both teams would benefit greatly from similar highly-effective performance-related skills, each team may need very different Change-Readiness Skills. Unfortunately, in many cases, even when teams are provided with highly effective performance-related skills, without the support of the unique combination of Change-Readiness Skills that is specific to that team, needed performance-related skills may not be adopted. Which Change-Readiness Skills do teams and individuals in your organization have high mastery levels of? How are any specific low mastery levels of Change-Readiness Skills affecting their ability to achieve desired outcomes?

How are Change-Readiness Skills designed to improve the way people respond to discomfort associated with change?

The way an individual responds to the discomfort associated with change (especially when Unlearning is required), is specific to that individual but not only to the discomfort with change. If an individual responds to the discomfort associated with change by becoming easily agitated, impatient, and aggressive, typically this type of response will show up for that individual with many other experiences of discomfort and disagreement. Someone who shuts down, withdraws, becomes passive, or otherwise tries to avoid having to cope with the discomfort related to change, will typically respond in these ways whenever discomfort and disagreement are involved, within the context of change but well beyond.

Humans are complex but for the most part, the way people respond to the discomfort associated with change is an immediate reflection of whatever Change-Readiness Skills they need greater mastery of. Individuals who lack sufficient mastery of Combining Expectations with Togetherness may be overly accommodating, accepting, understanding, and flexible when something is asked of them. They may ignore or suppress their own needs, and may feel anger, hurt, and frustration later when they realise their needs were ignored. In the context of change, the specific resistance associated with this skill will be one of seeming agreement, buy-in, and head nodding, with little to no follow-up or adoption of needed changes. On the other hand, individuals who lack sufficient mastery of Multiple Truths may become argumentative, insistent on their point of view, and bluntly uncooperative. Beyond any efforts to effectively communicate needed changes, create transparency, and engage these individuals in the change process, their distinct response to their own internal discomfort with change will result in a variety of specific less-than-ideal responses.

This is extremely important because when provided with the right Change-Readiness Skills, people can let go of difficult responses to change. Provided with the skills they are missing, argumentative responses, over accommodating or passive responses, as well as other challenging resistance responses to change are naturally abandoned in favor of more effective responses to discomfort. The insufficient mastery of which Change-Readiness Skills make individuals and teams in your organization struggle to adopt needed changes? Which Change-Readiness Skills will individuals and teams in your organization need greater mastery of so they can adopt more effective responses to change and achieve desired outcomes?

The KCI Change Acquisition Method is a step-by-step process for identifying which Change-Readiness Skills are needed and for managing their acquisition into practice. If that's relevant in your specific situation, we invite you to check out the KCI training and certification programs, or just reach out if you have a specific question we can answer.

With appreciation,


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