Afiniti Insights

Change Leadership and Drivers: 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment Insights

Nobody said change is easy. But if twenty-plus years of deploying our change readiness assessment has taught us anything, it’s that strong change leadership and clear outcomes make it an awful lot easier.

Recently, we wrote about how our experience influenced a refresh of our 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment. In this article, we explore two of the most important, and most challenging, Levers for successful change: Leadership and Drivers.

By Drivers, we mean the business imperatives for change, and the defined objectives: why you’re investing your time and effort. And while Leadership might seem more self-explanatory, we mean an active, engaged and committed team of advocates who are able to support the whole change journey from concept to business as usual.

In short, organisations need change leaders and a roadmap for that change.

The full 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment is completed in collaboration with the leadership team. But what if Leadership is identified as a weaker Lever? How does the senior team become that voice for change?

Ultimately, they need to speak about it in the same language. And while Afiniti’s tailored toolkits certainly help with this, driving the ability to articulate the change in a busy landscape, this all comes from a clear understanding of the Drivers – that ‘North Star’ of the change.

North Star over the Earth
Keeping the ‘North Star’ of your change in focus is key to success.

What is active change leadership?

A lot of leaders fall into the trap of assuming they can simply tell people the change is happening and will deliver a particular benefit for the organisation, but this doesn’t often land well. The corporate vision doesn’t address that key question impacted stakeholders will have: What’s in it for me?

It’s a tall order to ask your people to adjust behaviours, learn something new or switch to a different technology on top of business as usual. And while teams at dispersed, safety-critical and highly regulated organisations (like those Afiniti specialises in partnering with) will sometimes make the change, they’ll never truly embrace it without understanding what’s in it for them.

Therefore, an active change leader must inspire awareness and desire in their functions. And while the impact of the change may vary from department to department, leaders need to keep the core Drivers, that North Star, as their guide whilst role modelling the new ways of thinking.

What happens when change leadership isn’t considered?

We know our 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment works best when embedded in the initial strategy for change, but all too often when Afiniti is asked to run the tool, it’s because the change has already been started and isn’t going as well as was hoped; those key Levers to success haven’t been thought of upfront.

For example, in a recent engagement, a major technology and logistics company had been trying to implement a target operating model with a new ERP system. They were undergoing spectacular growth, seeing their business value proposition change, and a significant portion of their leaders were less than one year in the job.

Because they were still discovering their departments’ individual workings, they hadn’t stopped to consider the joined-up organisational approach required to embark on this transformation. The change story, if communicated at all, was told inconsistently and missed the North Star narrative – why they were doing this, the positive attributes of the new way of working and the consequences of not implementing the change. This led to colleagues across the organisation perceiving the change as scary, threatening or just irrelevant.

Throughout our engagement, Afiniti were able to embed the mindset that empowered executives, who had previously been managing, to successfully lead this transformational change and take colleagues with them on the journey.

Had the organisation considered those Leadership requirements and Drivers at the outset, they could have progressed swiftly and achieved more in less time.

Cascading change down

Man holding his hand to his ear to listen.

Part of the reason leaders often fail to identify overarching Drivers for change is because, understandably, they’re so busy. On top of this, in a successful business, change is happening all the time – it is the one constant, after all. However, the colleagues they lead are not likely to see or experience the same things or hear the same messages about changes.

At Afiniti, we’ve seen this many times, and particularly in one engagement for a recently merged organisation. The previously separate leadership teams suddenly had to learn to do things the same way as their counterparts, removing multiple processes and defining one target operating model. As a senior leadership of 50 people, a key objective was to align and present the merged organisations as one, and therefore the change had to be communicated consistently.

If not, then as the messaging is cascaded down to the wider organisation, the disparity in that messaging gets wider and wider, and the further the organisation gets from that North Star of the clear drivers.

By embedding active change leadership, the right communication cascaded down. People didn’t feel the change was being done to them, as is often the case in a regulated environment. Instead, they understood the ‘why’ and got involved in the ‘how’ to feel part of the journey, because the active leaders walked the walk to demonstrate it.

Talk the right talk

Even change that should be perceived as positive can be met with resistance when leaders don’t communicate it properly.

A recent engagement saw Afiniti support a critical infrastructure organisation with rolling out a programme that allowed every employee to choose the IT kit to best meet their specific requirements. We developed an interactive app and promoted options via roadshows where users could touch and feel the tech, which really helped drive the narrative of “Your role – your kit”.

However, some leaders found this a hard message to believe in and actively discouraged people from engaging, fearing that allowing employees to choose one thing could spiral to them wanting a say in other areas.

An in-depth 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment confirmed major areas for improvement in Leadership and Drivers, which we subsequently addressed. This was timely, because the sudden onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic accelerated the award-winning programme from two years to two months, which would have been an impossible feat without aligned, active change leaders working towards the same Drivers.

Not all effective leaders are effective at communicating change, but the more mature ones identify and address those shortfalls proactively, mapping the path from the get-go and not waiting for an issue to arise before remediating.

Proactive change leadership

Whatever stage of the change journey you’re on, you might like to take a sample of our 6Lever™ Change Readiness Assessment to identify any potential blockers to successful, sustainable adoption.

One of my top tips, which I would recommend you start immediately, is to forward-focus your executive meetings. Often, these can be retrospective, analysing previous reporting period stats and never looking forward. Picture your change journey on a sat-nav; there are inevitably corners you can’t see around, but by harnessing the skill and knowledge of the executive team, you can jointly think ahead, reduce silos and map your change journey to create bends that aren’t nearly as sharp.

If you’d appreciate a more in-depth discussion about your change programme, please feel free to contact us. I’d be delighted to learn more about your organisation. 

Emma Roberts
Emma Roberts
Emma has over 25 years’ experience in organisational design, project business analysis, change management and communications. Emma has worked with a variety of large organisations in the private, public and charitable sectors, from life sciences to rail, NHS and RAF to financial services and energy as well as large-scale transformation in other safety-critical, heavily unionised operational environments. 
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