To make change in an organisation happen new ideas must become new ways of working. All those who need to work in the new way must be persuaded to abandon their current approach and put effort into learning new procedures, new systems, and new priorities.
Some people will naturally jump at the chance to do something new. They are excited by the possibilities and opportunities that a new approach offers them. They appreciate the differences between their current ways of working and how things might be in the future, but they are no restrained by potential losses, instead they look to maximise the advantages of the change.
It is this group that have some of the natural characteristics of effective Change Agents. Their positivity, their willingness to embrace new ideas and their energy in piloting the changes create examples and evidence of how things will work which inspire their more hesitant colleagues.
I cannot lead change without working closely with this inspirational group. I have lots of anecdotal evidence to support this finding from McKinsey (The People Power of Transformations, McKinsey February 2017)
“Change agents appear to have a notable impact on success. Less than half of respondents say their organizations select these employees, who dedicate a significant part of their time to work as facilitators or agents of the transformation. But those who do report overall success more often than other respondents—and are twice as likely to report success at transforming their organizational cultures.”
Two types of Change Agent
There are two types of Change Agents needed for change to be successfully cascaded through an organisation.
- ‘Pro’ Change Agents who are highly trained, experienced change practitioners. These professionals understand the theories and models of change management and business transformation. They use this knowledge to define, scope and plan the changes, and identify all those impacted. They define the change management framework, tools and techniques to be applied by all those responsible for change activities and create and maintain the network of “local” Change Agents who will help to create and adopt the new ways of working.
- ‘Local’ Change Agents, each supporting a small team of their colleagues. These individuals are not experts in change management theories and models, but they understand what needs to be done, and they have a passionate belief in the need for change and the benefits it will bring to their area of the business. Unlike ‘Pro’ Change Agents, change management is not their full-time responsibility, they balance the need to improve how things are done with achievement of ‘business as usual’. Their mandate comes from their Line Managers, who must support them in this role to pare back their day to day responsibilities to create enough time to lead the change.
Benefits of Change Agents
For the organisation, a network of Local Change Agents is an essential tool for implementing change. These local resources transform the change from a strategic objective divorced from the day to day work, to something tangible, that their colleagues are willing to adopt.
For individuals, becoming part of this network is a fantastic career opportunity. It gives them the opportunity to shape how they will work in the future, their influence with their colleagues is recognised and they are exposed to new developments and new insights outside of their current reporting line.
Creating a network of local Change Agents is now recognised as an essential step in managing change. Those with professional change management skills grapple with the complexity of the getting the breadth and depth of the network correct. It is also important to be able to explain the vital role that Change Agents have in adopting new ways of working, to generate the motivation to take on the role.