Photo by Supriya S

Continuing with our deep dive through the ADKAR model, we move on to the fourth element: ability.  As Jeff Hiatt defines this in his book “ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community”, ability is

the demonstrated capability to implement the change and achieve the desired performance level.

That sounds straightforward enough, especially if you have provided the necessary knowledge to enable this. Unfortunately, as you know, knowledge does not automatically transform into ability. As Jeff so amusingly points out, we don’t complete golf lessons and immediately play like professionals. (Indeed even the professionals don’t always play like professionals – although they are generally more consistent! You may therefore agree with me and add the word “consistently” to the definition above.)

Nevertheless, with any change you need to ensure that your people have the necessary ability to perform the way you want and expect them to. So how can you ensure this?

Photo by Paul Blenkhorn

The simple – perhaps obvious – answer is to ensure that your people have everything they need and are in a position to do what they need to. These will clearly vary from case to case, but the book on ADKAR identifies 5 specific factors that impact on ability. These are:

  1. Psychological blocks: inherent mental barriers such as fear of heights or phobias about blood would simply make some tasks impossible.
  2. Physical abilities: limitations of strength, size, agility, manual dexterity, hand-eye co-ordination, and colour-blindness are all examples that might make some tasks impossible.
  3. Intellectual capability: the innate comfort a person feels when dealing with different things covering such things as analytical, mathematical, verbal, musical and social skills etc. as well as the their abilities to lead or influence others.
  4. Time available: self-explanatory this deals with a person’s ability to complete a task within a set, pre-determined time.
  5. Resources available: having the necessary financial and material resources to carry out the task and the advisory or support structures to call upon if/when exceptional circumstances or problems are encountered.

Ideally you should identify all these in the planning stage in order to ensure that they are addressed during the change, so that the lack of ability does not jeopardise the success of your change. To ensure this, you also need to be alert to, and able to ensure the early identification and remedy of, any problems you encounter. It is imperative, however, that when you do encounter any issues you do not stigmatize or blame the individual, but discuss the issue with them and either find a way to remedy it or an alternative role where their particular strengths can be better utilised. This is to the ultimate benefit of both parties and is essential to build the trust to ensure the success of the change.

Of course you cannot think of everything. This means you are always likely to encounter exceptions: things which you have not anticipated and therefore for which you have made no provision. This is where the resources available element come to the fore. In order to respond as quickly and effectively as possible to minimise any damage you need to ensure that:

  • There is no blame culture; and
  • People know where to turn for answers and the help they need.

Think of it as a kind of “none-of the-above” option to be incorporated into your planning. If you do it will provide you with an insurance policy that both increases confidence and trust in your change and reduces the risk of failure.

The code of practice for Ghanaian pineapple farmers provides a good case study here too. As the Yale University review of the case identifies, “For a new technology to be adopted by an agent, particularly in agriculture, it must be adapted to the circumstances faced by that agent.” That is just another way of stressing the importance of ability to execute the change and, once again, the study draws attention to the importance of social learning, blaming “the absence of social learning effects” for the failure of a similar project for another crop with known technology.