I’m still amazed how many times I have a conversation with a potential client that includes some or all of the following phrases:
- “But doesn’t the change manager convince everyone to change?”
- “So I am bringing in a resource to do all the change work so there’s no pressure on my staff”
- “So the project manager has everything under control, I just want you to come in to help get the people on board with this”
- “So if you can just prepare the check lists for our project manager, that’s all we really need from you”
I could go on… but this expectation of change management from so many organizations still amazes me. Only this past week I was shocked to see a change management role, reporting to the project manager and not engaged with any of the staff. I have the greatest respect for project managers but their role is seldom appropriate to creating culture shift but more about delivery of the end product. I thought I would back track on my last blog and actually go to the heart of change agents in action.
I’ve often seen the term change agent used interchangeably with change manager, change lead and the like. I actually don’t have an issue with that, but I think the role of change agent needs broader understanding. Now I do agree a change manager, change lead and their ilk can act as change agents, particularly if they are in-house or internal resources, however the role of change agent, in my mind is more akin to the change advocate, conduit and touch point for any change initiative. Let me explain some more.
Changes do not happen in nice contained bubbles. No matter how many times we try – and often wish for – most projects overlap with other projects within their areas of impact. An enterprise wide technology change will overlap with a local team reorganization; a new HR system will overlap with a new process change and a there are many combinations. We all know that in most organizations there are many changes taking place concurrently. This means that many changes are hitting the same work area and the same people from multiple directions. Expectations and demands are “of the highest priority” from all, and this scattergun approach often leaves areas suffering change fatigue, allows important pieces of the puzzle to slip through the cracks and stress out more people than needed.
This is why I advocate the creation of change agent networks. Formed within organizations to not just support successful change but also to manage the traffic flow of communications and requirements coming from the many changes hitting their areas. Whether you call it a filter mechanism, a personal spam control vehicle or just the person in the know, the best change agents ease the introduction of change, develop clear routes for two way communication and know how the changes will impact their area.
An organization needs to have a change management focal point, whether it be a Centre of Excellence (COE), Change Management Office (CMO) or some other entity. The reasons for this I can discuss at length in another post, but for now I take it that these exist, even if it’s only as the place where the external consultants sit! However, my view of getting change to be sustained in an organization requires change to not only be implemented, but adopted and then integrated in such a way that it is no longer a change but now the way things are done. The best way to get this message out there, is the use of people on the ground, in the areas effected and understanding the needs of the business and its people. Developing presence throughout the organization, to connect with the central change place and advocate for the change locally is paramount to successful sustainment of any change. That is not the only role of the change agent, it is to enable information to be gathered, distributed, reviewed and critiqued with local knowledge and consideration of all other changes hitting an area.
The typical role of a change agent would include the following responsibilities:
- Point of contact for local communications of change (distributed spokesperson)
- Review point for change plans, events or actions (local subject matter expert review)
- Connection point for all changes hitting an area (local collector)
- Messaging vehicle for local challenges to the center (Feedback spokesperson)
- Overseer of local actions to implement change (local coordinator)
There may be other additions, but here I get to the challenge for many people and organizations – this is not normally a full time role. If the workload is such that undertaking this type of role is fulltime, then the change agent either has too wide an area or there are too many changes rolling out at once.
What this does mean is that the change agent needs to take on this role beside their core role. That core role will often be a local manager, team leader or a position of cultural influence and respect within an area. I would recommend that each agent only has responsibility for one or two organizational functions and that they are generally positive about change.
What about the benefits of these change agent networks?
- Consistent local messaging
- Consistent and appropriate critique of plans, communication and other engagement plans
- A focal point for change, containing all needs within one person
- A subject matter expert for new and developing change considerations
- A feedback touch point for measuring success
- A familiar face for local staff to relate to when experiencing change
- A voice for the local needs and consideration of the needs of overlapping and connected changes
There are many longer term benefits in developing change capacity and resilience within the organization. In deciding who should be your change agents, I recommend you balance just three requirements of them:
- Enthusiasm for change
- Local respect and integrity
- Local subject matter expertise
All other beneficial skills can be taught or learnt on the job and through learning events. I would be amiss not to recommend my own change agent workshops that have come about from my observations and frustrations with what I see. Even where the change agent network is structured and people are in place to support change, often they are not given the skills or understanding to know what that means and what to expect from the role. All the certified change management courses in the world are designed for the full time change person and very little is out there for the part-time, infrequent, doing-it-off-the-side-of-their-desk change agent.
Details on the Certified Change Agent programs can be found on Capillary Learning website at www.capillarylearning.com