Martin Summerhayes (martinsummerhay) wrote,
Martin Summerhayes

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Management of Change - Change Agents, what are they?

“Being an innovator and a change agent is not enviable. You have to wear a flak jacket while launching new stuff, then fight off the competitors when they all jump on the bandwagon.” Jennifer Ritchie Payette

I love this quote, as it reminds me of some many of the changes I have been involved in and also some of the profound effects that they have had on me.

I have, in the past felt like I was in the trenches; fighting on all sides, those people that did not want to change; feeling like I was the lone voice in the wilderness carrying that change programme through. I know that is a really mixed set of metaphors, but hopefully it painted a vivid picture for you.

The role that a “change agent” plays in the organisational change is significant and absolutely critical to any change that happens. Change agents do not have to be the leader of the change. Rather, change agents are people that are considered to be key supporters and enablers of the change. If you want to deliver any change in an organisation successfully, you have to think of the “Management of Change” and target specifically, people who will be the change agents in the organisation.

Previously, I have worked with people in different functions across the organization - Finance, Marketing, HR, Operations, Sales, Customer Experience teams and even the Customers themselves. No matter what change programme I have been involved in or led, cross functional teams always work better than single functional groups.

The next thing to consider is at what level in the organisation you should choose your change agents? As previously discussed, in the article on Agility, it is not about leaders driving the change, rather, the employees in the organisation that are leading the change, driving the change forward with their colleagues, peers, manager and customers. The change agents are in control of their own destiny, so that they feel as if they can proactively adapt to any changes in their environment. I have worked on programmes where the change agent was two or even three levels removed form the leadership team, either down, or across organisational boundaries. So what are the key characteristics of change agents? They have generally got the following characteristics:

1. Understand the Change “Vision, Journey, route” – As mentioned above, a “change agent” does not have to be the leader, but they do have to have a clear understanding of the change agenda, the route that is going to be trod and be able to communicate that clearly with others. It is essential to note that a clear understanding of the journey does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the individual change agent themselves and their ability to personalise the changes with others and help them see that there are many ways to work toward the common outcomes.

2. Ask tough questions – Change agents will ask the toughest questions to ensure that they themselves have bought into the change, so be prepared for the challenges and don't think that the change agents are being negative. They are not, rather they are standing the shoes of their peers , emphasizing their angst at the changes.

3. Patient yet persistent – Change does not happen overnight and most people know that. People need to experience something before they really understand, and the change agents are often the early adopters of the change. They lead by example. The persistence part comes in actively supporting their peers and teams around them as they go through the change curve, actively supporting them and encouraging them. We all are capable of change, but not all at the same time. You have to recognise that people will change at different rates and different times.

4. Knowledgeable and lead by example – The change agents are normally the experts in the part of the business. They know how the business works,does not work. They know the pitfalls and the key people to work with. In reality, they are the people that others will look to, to lead by example. As they start to make the change, others are more likely to follow.

5. Finally, Build strong relationships based on trust – All of the above, means nothing if you do not have solid relationships with the people that you work with. People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change. The change agents I have seen are extremely approachable and reliable. You should never be afraid to approach that individual based on their “authority” and usually they will go out of their way to connect with the people they work with.

I leave you with the following quote:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." Apple Inc. motto

Tags: change agents, management of change, work

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