Company X is about to implement a new ERP system (feel free to insert any change project into this scenario). They have been down this road before, and know it is important to appoint Change Agents who will be responsible for implementing the change at the local level. They know the job will continue from the initial planning stages through the execution of the change. A management meeting is held to decide who is going to get this important job.
Manager A volunteers Joe. Joe has plenty of time on his hands. He isn’t well-respected so he rarely gets picked to serve on a project team. Manager B volunteers Judy. Judy knows everything there is to technically know about the new system right down to the exact buttons to press for every situation that could ever happen. She doesn’t have great interpersonal skills, but no one knows more about the system.
Joe and Judy are perfect for the job of Change Agent! Joe has time available and Judy has subject matter expertise. Everyone claps, congratulates each other for a job well done and then goes back to their desks to continue with the rest of their day.
We are all good! RIGHT?
WRONG! Unfortunately, Company X just made one of the most common mistakes we see when working with our Change Management consulting clients. They chose Change Agents based on who had time available, or who had technical knowledge rather than taking the time to pick people who have the right skills for the job. "Who has the time to take this on?” or “Who knows the most about the change?” are not exactly the right questions. The better question is, "Who has the skills, knowledge, credibility, and trust" to be successful in this important role?
Change Agent Traits
The Change Agent role is essential for a successful implementation of any project whether it is a small procedural change or a large transformational one. Given the importance of this role, it's critically important to build a network of local Change Agents with the skills and characteristics you need.
To help determine if an individual is a good fit for the Change Agent role, IMA developed the following checklist of criteria. Does the potential candidate have:
- A successful personal and organizational history
- Success and credibility with key Sponsors
- Trust with key Targets
- Awareness of culture and sub-culture differences
- Belief in the project
- Knowledge of the business unit and strategy
- Ability to translate the Sponsors' Frame of Reference (FOR) to the Targets' and vice versa, without their own FOR interfering
- Ability to develop teamwork among Sponsors, Change Agents, and Targets by creating common goals and inter-dependence for success
- Comfort level with ambiguity
- Courage – (Why courage? Because the Change Agent must be willing to ask Sponsors for what they need, even when it becomes difficult or uncomfortable!)
5 Tips for Developing Successful Change Agents
Once you’ve selected the RIGHT Change Agents (based on their abilities rather than who has time and/or
knowledge), follow these 5 tips to ensure the Agents are successful in their role.
TIP #1: Build Agents' belief in the outcome of the project - Treat Agents as Targets first.
TIP #2: Identify and align rewards for Agents - Agents need to be reinforced, too! Remember that rewards need to be in the Frame of Reference of the recipient. Rather than guess what will be meaningful, ask!
TIP #3: Invest in Agents' skill development - It's always surprising that organizations will ask people to serve as Change Agents without any skill development in what is required, without clear definition of roles and responsibilities, and without ongoing guidance and support! Even when Agents have the right personal characteristics, there is a need to have specific skills and knowledge.
TIP #4: Make the Agents' assignment a full time job when possible - 25% of four people’s time does not really equal one full-time Change Agent. When you have people devoting small portions of time to transformational change, or complex enterprise-wide change, you end up spending a lot of time keeping people up-to-date on what happened. It's simply not efficient.
TIP #5: Plan for Agent succession. (Not if, but when) - It's a reality in today's organization that Change Agents will come and go over the course of a project, particularly a multi-year transformational change. Plan for how you will transition people into the role.
By choosing Joe and Judy as their Change Agents, Company X not only set their Agents up for failure, they put their project on the road to potential implementation disaster. Is your organization going through change? Do you have the right people chosen for this important role? If not, now might be a good time to make a change (pun intended).