Creating Champions for Change

Are "change agents" nothing more than flunkies of the CEO?


The usually reliable voice for more human workplaces, HR and Careers blogger Liz Ryan, seems to think so, with this recent Forbes piece where she says, Don't hire a change agent...and don't be one.
In a nutshell, here is her beef:  "The ‘change agent’ construct is a crock because if the CEO cares so deeply about this project, why can’t he or she manage the leadership team to make it happen?"
The whole screed is worth a read, but be warned: If you are a change agent, you may be enraged by her point of view.
I have a client that has asked me to help train a cadre of change agents as part of an effort to improve their culture. The organization has recognized the need for change and desires to become a "provider of choice" by improving the experience of its customers.
The CEO and his leadership team are aligned and behind this change. They have selected a group of employees from across the organization to be the agents of change.  This group has been designated as the "champions" of service.
Champions of change are individuals from around the organization who are selected to help drive the desired change. (See this excellent article by Emma Murphy for a step by step approach to developing change champions.)
In selecting people for this role as champions, you will want to pick those who...
Have grit - People who have determination and who won't quit even in the face of stiff odds.
Get it - They already "get" the need for change. They don't need to be sold. They are already there.  They understand that staying in the present state of things is unsustainable.
Risk  - They have the moxie required to get up in front of their peers and represent the message about change.  They are ready to engage in lively (even heated) conversations especially with others who may resist or fear the change. (As one of the folks in yesterday's training put it, we have "spice.")
Are accountable - Interestingly, Liz Ryan ends her anti-change agent article with this statement:  "...we are all Change Agents, responsible for speaking our truth and taking responsibility for the things we care about." Yes. That hits the nail on the head. Champions of change have courage and a high degree of personal accountability. If it is to be, it is up to me.
Are humble helpers - They recognize how "wretched" (to use a term from sage of consulting Geoff Bellman) organizational life can be quite often. That many struggle with feelings of powerlessness when it comes to change. Champions of change "meet people where they are at" and compassionately listen to them, open to ideas, and ready to help them navigate the emotional transitions of change.
Embody the change - They already embody what the vision for change is all about. If the goal is a safety culture, they  already embrace positive and proactive safety practices.  If the goal is a customer-centric culture, they already do everything with the customer in mind.
If well-chosen, the selected champions of culture change will champ at the bit to get going.
If well-prepared and supported, the champions will "carry the gospel" and spread it to the corners of the organization.
If successful, the champions will "be the change," leading by their example, and inspiring change in others.
Are you looking to change your organizational culture? Considering creating champions of change? Let me know how I can help.
Terrence Seamon is a sherpa of change. Follow him on twitter @tseamon.

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