Change Agent Tip #19: Verify Capability

Dec 24, 2011 No Comments by

Change is a constant, yet many of us seem to be less than fully prepared for it at the moment we are first asked to demonstrate readiness. In a pair of recent articles, I talked about how the first two ingredients in building stakeholder readiness for change center around knowledge and skill.

Knowledge involves awareness and understanding while skill comes as that knowledge is paired with practical application. The third critical component in the recipe for individual change readiness is capability.

Confidence is King: I equate change capability with the level of confidence you have that your stakeholders will perform at the moment of truth. Consider the following example of where knowledge and skill leave off and capability begins.

Seal the Deal: The Navy SEALS are perhaps the most capable, concentrated fighting force in the world. The secret to their unbelievable ability to perform under pressure goes far beyond advanced tools, physical prowess, intellectual knowledge and well-developed skills.

It lies in their constant focus on preparation.

I listened to an interview the other day in which a former SEAL shared that the only time when he and his team members were not preparing for a mission was when they were actually on a mission. Often they would prepare for months for a mission that took mere minutes to carry out.

SEAL teams are expected to perform flawlessly under incredible pressure. The confidence their commanders have in them is a tangible example of raw capability.

In the context of organizational change, I think of capability as the force that gives me confidence as a Change Agent that my stakeholders will deliver results at the moment when they are first asked to perform in a new way as demanded by the change.

Evidence and Capability: A colleague of mine who used to do a lot of formal audits once walked me through a 4-level hierarchy of evidence that she routinely used when performing a detailed study of a company’s books.

“Lock the Car” – I’ll adapt the Auditor’s concept a bit here to make a point that change capability can be verified at many levels. First, consider how the following auditing hierarchy of evidence could be used to verify “Your car is locked”:

1. Blind Trust: You tell me with great sincerity that you locked the car. Based on your word and no further evidence, I choose to believe that your car is in fact locked.

 2. Inference: I hear the “beep” of the horn as I see you press the button on your remote key lock. I assume your car’s electronic locking system works like most car security systems, so it must be locked.

 3. Verified Process: I personally hold your remote locking device in my hand and press the button. Since I hear the “beep”,  I assume it’s locked because I initiated the act myself. Again, the security system is assumed to be working.

 4. Verified Outcome: I not only press the button to lock the car myself (or watch you do it) – I pull up on the car’s door handle to verify that the door will not open. I have verified the results of the process and validated that your intent to lock the car resulted in a specific desired outcome.

How This Applies to Change Agents: The knowledge and skill-building methods I discussed earlier are ways to build the foundation for capability. Using the car-locking example above as context, consider these four ways Change Agents can measure readiness capability:

1. Blind Trust: Don’t measure at all – just assume stakeholders are getting ready and wait to see what results you get on Day-1 of your change. Sometimes Change Agents fool themselves into believing that their stakeholders are ready for the change when in fact they have done nothing to verify readiness except assume.

Perhaps they don’t feel they have the time to circle back and verify capability or they fear that stakeholders will view their verification inquiry as a lack of trust. In either case, what you don’t know can really hurt your change!

2. Ask and Trust (Inference): Use surveys, group feedback discussions, targeted phone calls and on-site interviews to ask stakeholders how ready they feel. Ask a few questions that are specific to the change needed in their areas. Verify awareness of the change and completion of preparation tasks (such as training) by asking simple yes/no questions.

This level of verification through inference may build your confidence somewhat and it might result in “guilting” a few stakeholders into completing their preparation, but it does nothing to verify that they are actually following through, so it’s hardly an air-tight way to ensure that things will go smoothly when you flip the switch.

3. Verified Process: Have your stakeholders walk through the process steps required in the new, post-change world. This “show me what you know” approach is similar to what we used to call a “smoke test” when I worked in the world of software development. Our team would plug all of our programs together at the end of a development cycle and try running them as a system just to see if anything blew up.

It’s a reference to the way early garage-based computer engineers tested their circuit boards by applying electricity and watching for smoke. Process verification is a more reliable measure of stakeholder readiness than trusting or asking, but it still doesn’t guarantee readiness.

4. Verified Outcome: The final and best way to create confidence that your stakeholders will produce the desired results on Day-1 of the change is to have them demonstrate that they not only know about the change and can demonstrate how to perform – they can actually produce the desired outcomes in a new way.

Have some (or all) of your stakeholders go through a scenario-based exercise that simulates the new actions people will need to perform once the change has occurred. Verify that their simulation produces the results you are looking for. This technique could involve outcome-based lab demonstrations, end-to-end process tests after training courses, and so forth. The main point here is that stakeholders will recognize how well their actions are working and adapt in a practice setting before real business results are on the line and valuable resources are being invested.

Summary: Building knowledge and awareness of your upcoming change are good first steps in creating stakeholder readiness. Skills built through training add the component of application. Capability is brings real confidence and it’s best measured by looking for desired outcomes.

The final piece of my change readiness recipe is motivation… and that’s the topic for another post.


Questions for Chatter:

  • How does your organization measure capability when implementing change?


  • What can be done if stakeholders are simply not taking the initiative to prepare themselves for the change?


Incoming search terms:

  • raw agents training

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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