“Pre-Planning” or “Readiness”

April 14, 2009 Leave a comment

We were in a learning session the other day and I was amused when I heard Marianne Hughes, our Executive Director at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, refer to “back when it was still ok to talk about planning…” I appreciated her currency in the field, as well as the decades of experience she is able to bring to the table. Marianne was talking about how important it was to apply a “pre-planning phase” to any organizational change process. What I specially appreciated was her call for an equivalent moment in group process as we are coming to understand it today, what she called a “readiness” phase.

What is important here is that as paradigms shift we are not just playing around with language but we are actually learning to look at the world with an entirely different lens. I forget who it was that said “strategic planning is obsolete, what we need is strategic thinking.” This to me is a lot like what Marianne was saying, understanding the state of a group that is clamoring for change is not exactly pre-planning, it is actually testing for readiness. When I hear “pre-planning” I get right into linear thinking, and it feels like linear thinking is actually a limitation for groups that want to deal with complexity.

“Readiness” on the other hand seems to be testing for something else. In my experience, testing for readiness must include the skillful probing into a group’s interest or capacity to engage an “adaptive challenge.” And here I’m using the language of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky who skillfully make the distinction between technical problems and those challenges that demand a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions. It seems to me that a “pre-planning phase” can serve to solve a technical problem, but an adaptive challenge demands organizational readiness.

One of my key learning edge questions is found somewhere around here. I have a core interest in helping people and groups of people shift out of what I call the “dominant-and-dying paradigm” into what I see as the “emergent paradigm.” I am passionate about this specifically because the dominant paradigm has calcified while this emergent paradigm seems to have potentially liberating attributes. Certainly there is much more to explore here, but I’m currently highlighting a key question – how do we test for readiness?

How do we know a group is ready to make a shift at the level of values, beliefs and assumptions?

And if a group is not ready, is there any way we can help?

Any ideas?

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  • Linda Guinee says:

    Great post Gibran! It brought to mind some of what we used to do when I was doing AIDS work, part of which was about helping clients move from homelessness into homes. While there was planning involved (filling out huge amounts of paperwork, etc – and creating a housing plan so that we’d come up with all options), this was only a small part of housing readiness – which included helping people identify the strengths they already have that would help them succeed and, at times, building skills that would help them move into and maintain an apartment long term. The plan was only a small part of success – while focusing on readiness made all the difference. Could this be true for groups as well?

  • Santiago says:

    Great thoughts Gibrán. It’s interesting to think that this new emergent paradigm has been the creation of the problems and realizations that arose, in part, through the older, linear paradigms. Great stuff!

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Linda and Santi –

    How visionary of the work around AIDS to take that sort of understanding, it feels like so many “social services” and efforts that pass as “welfare” don’t take such huamity into account – how is it that people become statistics?

    And Santi, I think you are on to something, the “Emergence” diagram that I’m fond of using (which I got from Berkana), depicts precisely that process. Paradigms are like waves in the same ocean, except that they seem to follow an evolutionary principle – not to replace, but to transcend and include

  • Interesting…..preplanning vs. readiness. I think it’s a heck of a lot harder to excited about preplanning than it is to dive into the readiness question. Readiness has some inherent meaning, I think, for most, whereas preplanning is a bit of a snore and tells us just how far away from implementation we really are.
    Working with one of our client groups in the past, they prided themselves on being ready-fire-aim people, you talk to them about preplanning and their feet are moving toward the door. Readiness, on the other hand, might actually invite people to engage in a foundational question that really merits some significant space to explore.
    One key element to readiness is around the question of leadership. Where is the leadership energy going to come from? Doesn’t necessarily need to be a positional leader(s), yet for certain there needs to be a person or persons who are catalysizing the action at the onset and over time.

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks Andria! I so appreciate the voice of experience on this quest. Your thoughts on the question of leadership are also resonating, specially as you use the term “catalyzing,” makes me think of “The Starfish and the Spider” and the idea that a decentralized organization still needs a champion and a catalyst.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I’m with you on the attractiveness of assessing readiness vs. ‘pre-planning. I agree leadership is a key element of readiness, and that an appreciative, strengths-based approach holds much more possibility and power than a problem-focused approach. I also think readiness involves a set of people who see more value in change than in maintaining the status quo, or who see (experience?) the high cost of doing nothing. And, they have to believe that there is some place in the new future for themselves before they’re willing to go head. Turns out to be an important factor for folks throughout an organization or community. Very few folks will put energy into creating a world that has no place for them! I can think of a few other readiness factors–like time, energy, facilitation skills, other kinds of material resources to support thinking together, enough mental, emotional and political space for new thinking. What else do you see?

  • Gibran says:

    Linda, this stuff is truly mindblowing, and it’s all happening so fast. I was just talking to Charlie (here at IISC) and we were remembering Mary Kearns’ and his thoughts on the density of connections. Your points seem to prove what he has been saying – the more tightly woven our communications grid, the more things can happen.

    I supposed these could be good and bad things, but as of now, there seems to be a positive ethos in most of these social media worlds.

    I am right there with you in this wondering about how to best take advantage of these technologies to work together and get things done virtually. My experience so far is that the more woven a team is the more likely it is that they can do amazing things together.

  • Linda says:

    Here’s something that may help – an assessment tool to figure out if a group is ready for a change from William Bridges. May be a little traditional (power structure wise) but still useful and could be possibly adapted for some more informal grops or differently structured groups: http://www.wmbridges.com/resources/assessment_tools.html

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