Before asking how change-ready your organization is, take a step back to understand how much change and what kind of change it is facing.
The VUCA concept provides a good starting point to look at an organization's context and how likely it is to evolve. It defines four characteristics of a changing environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. For a great summary of VUCA, read Harvard Business Review's What VUCA Really Means for You.
Unfortunately, while VUCA is intellectually compelling, it is too abstract to use as such for assessing a changing environment.
A framework based on VUCA and environment forces
Let's see how we can elaborate on VUCA to build a simple but actionable framework. The framework below combines VUCA factors with environment forces and shows an example of change for each combination. Typical environment forces used in the framework are Competition, Customer expectations, Talent, Technology, Partners & suppliers, and Regulation.
An example for Volatility of Competition might be: "In our industry, some competitors frequently do deep discounts, which can affect our sales significantly but temporarily."
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The framework calls on people's anticipative thinking and collective intelligence. Respondents are asked to rate each combination of VUCA factor / environment force for the likelihood of changes that might affect the organization a few years down the road. The framework questions can be delivered through one-to-one interviews, workshops, or surveys. I have found one-to-one interviews and surveys more effective in a first pass because they make it easier to understand personal concerns, and because they show gaps of perception between functions and levels. Whereas workshops are more effective in a second stage to make various perceptions converge to a shared picture of the changing environment and generate a collective sense of urgency.
Additional guidelines to use this framework successfully
- If you know the organization in question, tailor the examples to be more relevant. (framework above is a generic version)
- You can use this framework for a specific area of the organization. The environment is therefore anything that is outside this area.
- The quality of the assessment depends greatly on the people you select to answer these questions. Select the minimum number of people who are representative of the different functions and levels of your organization.
- Ask the question for each combination to each respondent on a simple scale such as low / medium / high. Don't try making it a scientific measurement. The goal is to understand just enough to focus further efforts where it matters the most.
This simple framework is not meant to replace a comprehensive diagnosis. It helps understand, with minimal investment, how much change your organization is facing, what type of changes and in which areas. It also helps gain attention from key stakeholders. If you decide to go further, it points to areas of improvements and helps identify potential levers such as people, processes, or structures.