What Scouts can teach us about change readiness

02 December 2020

Scouting is a global youth service movement established in 1908 by British Soldier Lord Robert Baden Powell.

“Be Prepared” is the Scouting motto devised by Baden-Powell in 1907 and published in the Scouting manual a year later.

Upon hearing the Scouts’ motto, someone asked Baden-Powell the inevitable question:

“Prepared for what, Lord Baden-Powell?”

“Why, prepared for any old thing,” he replied.

We can learn a lot from this attitude.

These are VUCA times – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous but we no longer have the luxury of time to become prepared.

So like Scouts, we need to be in a permanent state of preparedness.

The rate of technological change is increasing exponentially and how we prepare for change is changing too.

Change is no longer a systematic step by step process of start, plan, change and move on to the next change.

Now it’s a cycle of activity more akin to a whirlwind or a scrum with many more than two changes occurring simultaneously.

So where the Scouts would say “be prepared”, in change management we would say change readiness. Change readiness is the most important part of change management.

Robert Baden-Powell’s definition of being prepared is:

“Being prepared means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty. Be Prepared in mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment and are willing to do it.”

Compare it with the Harvard Business Review’s definition of change readiness:

“Change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimise risk and sustain performance.”

Baden-Powell’s definition is person rather than organisation-centred and focuses on:

  • Readiness in mind and body
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • The right thing to do
  • The willingness to do it

These are aspects of change readiness that still hold true a hundred years later.

How can we use Baden-Powell’s definition to leverage change?

Always being in a state of readiness in body and mind.

This is about having a culture of change readiness in your organisation and embedding it in your company goals and vision, like the Scouts.

Being obedient to every order

This is an old-fashioned sounding phrase to our ears now but supporting leaders is implicit in this sentiment.

A group of 14-16-year-old Scouts from Hampshire climbed Mount Everest as part of the Centenary Scouting Celebrations in 2007.

That takes strong leadership and change readiness should be part of every leaders’ skillset. It’s our role as communicators to coach, consult and support them here.

Thinking out beforehand any accident or situation

This is all about good planning. Scouts are obviously brilliant at this. Part of the Centenary Celebrations involved taking 40,000 14-16 year olds from 52 countries camping in Essex for two weeks, no mean feat.

Companies need to be constantly scanning the horizon for change and having the right tools to hand.

Knowing what the right thing to do is

This flows from understanding your organisation and the change itself so your interventions have integrity – that is – they fit well within the wholeness of the organisation.

It is crucial to co create interventions with those impacted by the change, testing and adjusting as you go.

This is where organisations need to build trust with their people by rewarding and recognising good performance. As part of the Centenary Celebrations Scouting introduced a range of new badges fit for the age, including GPS Navigation.

By listening to them and responding to feedback and sharing a vision of the change, future state and journey to get there.

All areas where communications has a huge amount to contribute.

106 Communications is an award-winning communications consultancy on a mission to making work better. We create communications to engage and inspire through our three expert-led practises in Internal Communications, Change Communications and Branding & Marketing. If you need help with getting change ready, contact Henry Davies on


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