Finding your Change Agents

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Write up of a fascinating meetup from the London Chapter of the Change Agent Network in November 2019 looking at a scientific approach to sourcing change agents. I have summarised my key takeaways but if you want more information you might find these resources useful:

Ideas for creating a network of Change Agents and building their emotional resilience
This is a brand new training course and qualification for those who are helping to make change happen in their area of the business

Key takeaways
We collaboratively built a word cloud to describe the characteristics of these influencers including favourite person, friend, technical expert, senior leader, someone experienced, peer, someone who believes in me or challenges me. There was a good discussion after the talk about the use of the word influencers and how, as a result of social media bloggers/vloggers “influencer” has negative connotations of pushing their own view, forcing a change of mind and manipulation.

Statistically there are 3% of staff that through their networks and the trust that others have in them have the capacity to engage 88% of your workforce. Change agents are a hidden force so we need a structured approach for identifying them. These techniques:

1. Snowball – ask people to name 5 people that they turn to for advice, and then ask each of these 5 to identify the 5 people that they turn to. The number of potential change agents quickly builds up. This technique is also called a nominated network.

2. Use an algorithm to sift through the names suggested from these 3 questions in a staff engagement survey:

  • Who do you go to for advice?
  • Who gives you energy?
  • Who do you trust?

There was a valuable discussion about the concerns staff have in naming colleagues. There was a technical answer about wiping the data once you have git the answers you need but it didn’t really address the issue of how to reassure staff. After all, even with anonymising the data you are still effectively “grading” the contribution that your colleagues make to your working life. A data analytics company that runs influencer identification surveys has found 2% of organisations do not formally identify Change Agent for these reasons. There was general agreement that when creating a network it is important to have a (committed and engaged) Sponsor and a context for why you are asking for such personal data. Personally I think there must be a culture of celebrating these outposts of support if we are to encourage staff to share details of who they are and to be clear what it is they might be nominating their colleagues for.

Another issue is how managers feel when they are approached to release influencers in their team for additional change related duties. The manager is losing capacity from the team and can also feel threatened that they haven’t be named as an influencer themselves. One suggestion was that they shouldn’t react this way because that is the reaction of a “manager” and not a “leader” and that they should instead celebrate that they have these Change Agents working far them. Hmm….not sure that telling people they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way is solving the issue. My more persuasive approach is to get these hierarchical leaders to appreciate that they are less likely to be nominated because they are not doing the day today work that staff turn to their peer group for help with.

Interesting conversation on whether Change Agents are mobile – if they are moved to another location will they still be an influencer. The answer appears to be yes, with an example given of 2 locations in the same organisation. There were no influencers in Rome that had a network in the Milan office and vice versa. After relocating those identified as influencers from each of these offices to the other location silo working was reduced and collaboration between the locations increased. The conclusion is that they are mobile because it is a trait not a role so they take the character traits with them wherever they go.

For this reason, tenure is not always a barrier to being an influencer because as we said earlier, it is a set of character traits, which you can deploy however long you have been at an organisation. However, to be an influencer, the person must have a connection to purpose of the change. This means that not everyone who is identified as an influencer can be a Change Agent for your change. For me this connects to the elements of intrinsic motivation. We want those communicating change on our behalf to be internally driven to create a successful implementation, and that means they must have belief in the value and benefits of the change. There was a useful discussion about the need for those who are negative to be steered away from the change. They cannot be used within the Change Agent network as they will use their energy to convince people NOT to change their ways of working. The advice was to make sure they have factual information (which can be used to address their negative perceptions) but not to have a role. This generated discussion because of course the alternative view is that we should “keep our friends close but our enemies closer!”

As you can see, a fantastic evening, where we all got a chance to think, discuss and learn and meet really interesting people.