Change Capacity: What Makes Change Easy or Difficult

November 23, 2009
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With a success rate for change initiatives as low as 30%, you may say there is no such thing as an easy change to implement. The assumption is certainly a good one to ensure you don’t underestimate the change management efforts required. Some changes prove to be more difficult than others to implement. It can be because of the nature of the change, its depth, the context, the way it is managed and the level of preparation.

As soon as the vision of the change becomes clear, several questions typically arise for the change leader: Can I make this happen? What problems can I expect and how will I solve them? Will people resist? What will help me through the journey? To start drawing a clear picture of what lies ahead, there are 4 parameters that you, as a change leader, need to assess:

  1. SF: the Strategic Fit of the change vision. In other words will the change support your company strategy? If the answer is yes, you will most likely be able to count on senior support and be able to remove barriers more easily. If the answer is no, the sustainability of the change will be jeopardized from day1.
  2. SA: the Attractiveness of the change to its Stakeholders. The vision of a



With a success rate for change initiatives as low as 30%, you may say there is no such thing as an easy change to implement. The assumption is certainly a good one to ensure you don’t underestimate the change management efforts required. Some changes prove to be more difficult than others to implement. It can be because of the nature of the change, its depth, the context, the way it is managed and the level of preparation.

As soon as the vision of the change becomes clear, several questions typically arise for the change leader: Can I make this happen? What problems can I expect and how will I solve them? Will people resist? What will help me through the journey? To start drawing a clear picture of what lies ahead, there are 4 parameters that you, as a change leader, need to assess:

  1. SF: the Strategic Fit of the change vision. In other words will the change support your company strategy? If the answer is yes, you will most likely be able to count on senior support and be able to remove barriers more easily. If the answer is no, the sustainability of the change will be jeopardized from day1.
  2. SA: the Attractiveness of the change to its Stakeholders. The vision of a future that looks much brighter than present is clearly a strong motivational factor. What about redundancy programs or other changes looking initially negative? Resistance can be neutralised with this sort of programs if you make things clear from the start. Clarity is the first step to attractiveness. The attractiveness will also be different to the various stakeholder groups, which is why a global view is needed.
  3. HI: Human Impact. What are likely to be the human consequences of the change and what efforts will be needed? I am talking about training, behaviours, culture and basically anything that means people will be impacted. A big human impact, like a major cultural change means a more challenging change to implement than having to train a certain population on a new software.
  4. OI: Organisational Impact. To what extent will our processes, systems (management and information), organisational structure, have to be modified? New formal mechanisms take time to put in place and function properly. They represent a key factor to achieve behavioural change. Again, the larger the OI, the more challenging the implementation of the change.

These 4 parameters are the ingredients that will enable you to assess your change capacity, by definition the success potential of the change. The recipe comes next:

Change Capacity = SF x SA /(HI + OI)

What does it mean? This formula is meant to stress a few things:

  • The higher the strategic compatibility of the change and its attractiveness, the higher the potential for success.
  • A change that is totally incompatible with the strategy (SF=0) or totally unattractive (SA=0) has no chance to succeed.
  • The lesser the impact of the change, whether it be human or organisational, the higher the capacity to make it happen.
  • Changes with large organisational and human impact do not jeopardise your capacity to make it a success as long as their attractiveness and strategic fit remain high.

Assessing your change capacity will help you know where you stand before the beginning of the change journey. It may also help you finding the right depth of the change by comparing different change capacity results for different depths: for what change depth will the results expected, and therefore the stakeholder attractiveness most outweigh the efforts required by the impact?

How can I practically assess my change capacity? As a change leader, thinking yourself about these 4 factors and discussing them with other people involved will give you a sense of your initiative’s success potential. A more thorough way of performing the assessment is by using a tool that will:

  • Assess each factor through a specific set of questions aimed at various stakeholders
  • Consolidate and quantify each factor
  • Determine the resulting change capacity index and benchmark it

Doing this exercise will help you prepare the journey. Preparation, as we know, is a large part of future success.

For more information about the change capacity formula, index and tool please contact me. More articles on change management here on my blog