How to Build a Change Agent Network

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When you’re embarking on change within an organisation, it’s important to make sure you have a change agent network to support you – but how can you build a change agent network? This content is part of the series on Change Management Roles and Responsibilities and explains the important role change agents, also known as change champions play in the successful implementation of change.

The value, importance and need for change management skills is growing at a rapid pace. I believe we are entering a new phase of growth, as organisations move from only have a handful of change professionals, to a broader resource pool of local change leaders, based in the business but responsible, with their colleagues, for changing their ways of working.

Establishing a Change Agile or Change Champion network is an important capacity building activity for the organisation. It requires tangible changes to job descriptions, key performance indicators and performance management reviews, competency models and hiring processes for new staff. It is also a cultural change. It fundamentally alters the expectation on staff, broadening their responsibilities from “doing a good job” to “doing a good job and improving the way the job is done”.

This means that the role of change professionals has to mature, to transfer our knowledge to these business based subject matter experts, and to form them into a network of their peers, so that they can ensure the changes they make benefit not only a specific process but also the full end to end value stream.

Identify Your Change Agents

With so much change taking place, organisations are appointing staff across all roles and management grades to lead their colleagues through change. These are referred to as Change Agents.

In this webinar, I explain how to identify those involved, bring them together as an effective network, overcome common challenges and inspire your agents to champion change.

Key takeaways from this webinar:

1. Appreciate how a Change Agent Network addresses the challenges of high volume change.

2. Define key characteristics of ideal Change Agents.

3. Clarify the tasks and activities that Change Agents perform.

4. Work through an 8 step model for establishing your network.

How to build a Change Agent Network

Change Agents, Change Champions, Change Ambassadors are the names given to those colleagues who are keen to volunteer in making change happen, and are willing to help their colleagues understand the change and develop new ways of working.

These 8 practical, easy to follow steps will help you build a network of committed, enthusiastic staff who will help you realise the benefits from your projects and programmes via the adoption of change.

Step 1 Find your Change Agents

Finding your Change Agents is a mixture of seeking out those who are most closely involved in the area of work that is going to be changed, along with those that want to volunteer to help make the change a reality.

You need to find those that combine real understanding of the current ways of working with a desire to make improvements, who believe that change is essential and cannot be delayed. They must also have the support of their colleagues.

Talk to those in the area of the business that is going to be affected by change and listen out for the names of those that others reference as “subject matter experts”. The best way to find the kind of person you are looking for is to have them recommended by their colleagues.

Never forget you are building a “cascade” so those you identify first are going to be your “lead” Change Agents, with the hope that they will identify their colleagues who can also take on the role of Change Agent, and in turn, they should look out for colleagues who can act as Change Agents.

Step 2 Put support in place for your network

To ensure your Change Agents can get off and running as quickly as possible, appoint someone within the central team as overseer of the network. This person develops materials that can be used by all the Change Agents and helps to coach them when they are struggling with aspects of their role.

Step 3 Explain the role of Change Agent

People need to understand what it is they are getting involved in, and too often, there isn’t any real understanding of what change management is or how to achieve it. Host a webinar or series of webinars to introduce the value of change management.

The learning outcomes for these webinars are:

  • Explain what Change Management is and how it differs from Project Management
  • Explain the value of managing change
  • Define the role of a Change Agent and why this is an important role.

Step 4 On-board your Change Agents

There will be a mixture of individuals who volunteer because the role is interesting to them and Managers who will nominate staff members because they want insight into the changes, or they are providing development opportunities for these staff.

The following steps enable you to work with your Change Agents over time, providing a mixture of training and doing what they have been trained to do. Experience has taught me not to provide all the training up front as this is both over-whelming and inefficient. This is because we need to provide opportunities for Change Agents to put into practice what they have been taught as soon as they have experienced the training, so that they build new skills.

Step 5 Train them

Take your “lead” Change Agents through an accredited training course to ensure they are qualified to build their credibility. The learning outcomes for this course include:

  • Creating a Roadmap for the lifecycle of the change, so they can plan when changes are going to be made to current ways of working.
  • Understand how to identify the benefits associated with the change via a Benefits Dependency Network.
  • Use this understanding of benefits to prioritises the changes.
  • Identify the factors that create a supportive, motivating environment for making change happen.

Step 6 Mobilise your Change Agents

Support your Change Agents as they host activities in their area of the business to build their local Change Agent Network. These activities include:

  • Host a team meeting to explain their role to their colleagues
  • Facilitate a discussion to agree the scope and impact of the change on their current ways of working.

Lead Change Agents are provided with centrally developed materials including slides and script for each event so that they do not have the pressure of having to create presentations and training materials for their colleagues. This also means that each Change Agent can deliver similar sessions, providing consistency of message across your network.

Step 7 Provide further training

Train your Lead Change Agents to build practical ability in change management techniques so they can work with their colleagues to create new ways of working.

The learning outcomes for this training include:

  • How to create an agenda of interesting activities for a workshop and how to facilitate this workshop so that everyone participates.
  • How to host a World Café meeting to generate discussion about the change.
  • How to create process flow diagrams, RACI tables and KSA charts to capture the detailed changes to current ways of working.

Step 8 Ensure Change Agents are creating new ways of working

Using the training from the step above, ensure that Change Agents are moving the change from idea to reality by working with colleagues to create new ways of working, and to practice these new ways of working so that they become “business as usual”.

Characteristics of effective Change Agents


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.

  1. 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.  
  2. ‘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.

Lessons learned from setting up Change Agent networks

I hosted a thought leadership group on the practicalities of building a network of change champions and the characteristics for effective change agents/change champions. This is the summary of the discussion:

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, because 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!”

Emotional Resilience for Change Agents

It is not always easy to remain positive in the face of strong resistance to change. This paper gives ideas for how to pick yourself up when the situation feels overwhelming

Top 4 change agent skills


In a recent debate with change management practitioners on the skills needed to be an effective change agent, the most often cited quality was emotional intelligence. This included the ability to build trusting relationships with stakeholders, demonstrate empathy, influence others and believe in the change. this belief in the importance of change was described as a ‘curiosity’ about what and how to improve. We also identified the need for Change Agents also need resilience, which is the ‘gritty determination’ and the ability to keep going with the change, even when there are no immediate benefits.

Core skills of effective Change Agents

Here are four key skills, which are all inter-related as strength in one skill makes it easier to achieve the other skills:

  1. Understanding the reasons for resistance to change and by understanding the origins and drivers for change, understanding how to address resistance.
  2. How to undertake a localised impact assessment using a checklist of pre-defined questions.
  3. Identifying and planning of all the activities to create and adopt the new ways of working.
  4. Undertaking a Readiness Assessment to understand if their local area is ready to change its ways of working
1.      Resistance to change

Resistance is the “push-back” that we get when we suggest new ways of working. Change Agents need to understand what triggers resistance because this helps to decide how to positively influence the resistor to participate in the change. Key knowledge areas for resistance to change include:

  • Understand that sometimes resistance is merely an immediate reaction to something new, and is not genuine opposition, but a temporary expression of shock.
  • Understand that some people are more motivated to change than others so they need to be allowed to get on with it, whilst others need more encouragement.
  • Understand that people feel comfortable with their knowledge of how to get things done, and that losing that and having to start all over again:
    • Slows their progress and everything takes longer initially
    • Creates a fear that they will find learning new skills hard, and that learning will take time they do not have
  • Understand what information individuals need to be able to create their own desire to change.
2.      Impact assessment

Change Agents must be able to assess any change on a like for like basis, identifying what can stay the same and what needs to change. These questions need to be tailored to the business area impacted but will include:

  • The impact on processes.
  • The impact on inputs and outputs.
  • The impact on instructions to be followed by suppliers.
  • The impact on information provided to customers.

We no longer deal with one-off changes, so the real skill in assessing the impact of any change is to take a holistic view, drawing together the different impacts of change, rather than examining each change in isolation. Impact assessment should assess the inter-dependencies across multiple changes so that colleagues can redesign their ways of working to include all known changes.

3.      Transition planning

Transition planning means identifying all the activities needed to move from the current to the new ways of working. This needs to be a collaborative exercise as change will only happen if everyone impacted makes a personal commitment to doing things differently. To make this commitment, they will need help to define in detail what must be changed and what will remain the same.

Some of this skill will involve planning, scheduling and the ability to break complex work into a series of simple steps. The skill is balancing the need for order with the freedom to enable colleagues to implement the change in the way that best suits their abilities.

4.      Change readiness assessments

Readiness is a progress check, much like a plane doesn’t take off unless the crew know all of the passengers have their seat belts on. Change Agents need examples of all of the factors to look for to assess if those impacted by change are ready for its adoption. These indicators include:

  • Notifications have been sent to the customers and suppliers of the affected areas, which demonstrates readiness because the upstream and downstream impacts of the changes have been identified and actioned.
  • Processes have been reworked to reflect the changes, streamlining the steps, adding in new activities, and identifying new measures of success.
  • Those impacted by the change are taking part in training, walk-throughs, and demonstrations. This creates the “tipping point” for sustainable change, where there are more people adopting the new ways of working than there are those on the outside, ignoring the change.

View from the front line

Working with a new group of Change Agents last week, I thought I would share their lessons learned.

Lesson 1 – Relationships

First big surprise for many of them as the week unfolded was the realisation that whilst it is called “change management” don’t assume the word management means process.

As one of them said to me, change management is more of an art than a science because it is all about people.

So the first big takeaway is that core to our success is the ability to persuade others. In turn, this requires us to build trusting relationships where we demonstrate empathy for their viewpoint and help them discover the impact and benefits of the change so they are willing to work differently.

Lesson 2 – Motivation

The next big takeaway was the importance of intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators (rewards and punishments) still have their part to play but they are the support act.

The main event is the development of a deep seated desire by those impacted to want to change. We used Dan Pinks work on intrinsic motivation to get our thinking started. We talked about the inter-dependencies between purpose, autonomy and mastery.

To establish purpose we used lots of techniques including Force Field Analysis to help those impacted vent their frustrations about the difficulties and problems associated with the change.

This gives people a chance to “clear the decks” emotionally before seeking out the benefits, improvements and advantages of the change that we as Change Agents will continually need to remind them of as the journey towards full adoption of the change.

We examined the concepts of autonomy and mastery by playing games to discover our own preferences for how we like to work. This gave us insight into how we all approach the same task differently, and how we feel motivated if we are allowed to do things our way and how we feel demotivated if we have to follow instructions from others about how we work.

Lesson 3 – Building a community

Finally we identified the need for a network of committed and energetic people to take the change forward. As Change Agents we recognised the importance of helping to build this network by seeking out natural influencers who others follow as a way of amplifying our messages about change by having these people communicate either followers.

We discovered how much effort is required to build this network, constantly seeking out relevant people and developing them into a community who work together, support each other and innovate together to make the change a reality.


We only scratched the surface of the importance of the role of Change Agent last week.

In our next get together we are going to deepen understanding by studying for the APMG Change Management Foundation qualification. This is because the group recognise the importance of building their credibility with those they seek to influence. Having a globally recognised qualification demonstrates to others you know what you are talking about and gives you an inner glow of confidence which is especially important when resistors to change make you question what you are doing.

The role of the Local Change Agent.

Increasingly, organizations are recognising that the only way they are going to deliver the huge amount of change that they have planned on their roadmaps and in their portfolios, is through internal capability.

Change only happens if those directly affected make the decision to start working differently, and these decisions are not made by external consultants imposing their will on others – they are made day-to-day by those altering how they carry out business as usual.

To help influence the pace of change at this local level sits the role of ‘Local’ Change Agent. This is a leadership role, relying on natural influencing and persuasion skills.

This webinar reviews how organizations are building their capability for change, and specifically what the role of Local Change Agent requires, and some of the techniques and activities that can help you create participation in your change initiatives.

Click here to listen to the recording