Top 4 Change Agent Skills

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In a recent Change Management Institute debate, 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

To benchmark your skills, compare your ability against the Agile Change Agent course outline.