In this final post of a 4-part series, I’ll wrap up a recipe for change success based on the notion that Change Agents should treat their work like a project. The first three posts suggested you apply classic project management discipline to:
- … clearly define and manage change activities,
- … execute change adoption plans based on an appropriate schedule,
- … and lock down the resources needed to help stakeholders adapt.
The fourth key to Change Agent success is access. There are five groups of people Change Agents need to establish and maintain access to throughout the process of change adoption:
1. Stakeholders: It’s difficult to truly know what the targets of your change are experiencing without a direct feedback channel. In the case of a change that impacts a few dozen people, I highly recommend that Change Agents directly engage those who are most impacted.
If your change has the potential to effect thousands – look to establish this direct connection through a representative sample of stakeholders. Direct feedback is the best way to ensure you’re addressing the true needs of stakeholders and hearing about potential points of resistance “straight from the horse’s mouth”.
2. Process Owners: These are the functional leaders and middle managers within your organization who have direct accountability for business results because they run departments, plants, divisions and business processes. By virtue of their positional authority, Process Owners will be the localized sponsors who will either reinforce the status quo or help with change adoption by sponsoring change within their units.
These leaders will eventually live with the downstream impacts of the change and their people (the working-level subject matter experts) will certainly watch them for guidance on when (or if) to adopt a change.
3. Subject Matter Experts (often abbreviated as SME’s): While Process Owners may have the ultimate local decision-making authority, local leaders typical defer to key members of their staff when it comes to the details.
That’s why it’s especially important for Change Agents to interact regularly with field-level employees who use the day-to-day processes that may be effected by a given change. These folks have inside knowledge and they can offer some great feedback because they will typically “tell it like it is” in a way that few others will.
4. Sponsors: Decision-makers at the highest level in the organization will obviously have a great influence on your change, but they also have limited time to devote to it. Change Agents would be well-served to engage sponsors as directly as possible, but always come prepared with three things:
- A crisp definition of what’s needed from sponsors and why it’s important.
- Two or three options for what to do – with a clear cost/benefit analysis for each.
- A solid recommendation based on your expertise and understanding of the situation.
Sponsors have the global authority needed to influence a great number of stakeholders to accept your change – but be careful with this 2-edged sword! Keep Sponsors in the loop on change-related risks without overwhelming them with details and avoid over-playing your hand by threatening to leverage the Sponsor’s authority where it’s not necessarily needed.
5. Project Leadership Team: Many large-scale changes are also part of even larger business or technology project. Access to the project managers and team leaders who are guiding this project work is critical to maintaining alignment, keeping project plans up-to-date and reporting the status of change-related activities.
In the case where change-related work identifies risks or burning issues that need attention, that resolution process will go much more smoothly if the topic of change adoption has been a regular item on the project leadership team’s agenda.
Summary: Change Agents do not typically hold the leadership reins of the projects that generate change nor possess the positional authority to dictate change. But with the appropriate levels of access to those who do control things, Change Agents can guide the successful adoption of meaningful change.
Question for Chatter:
- Have you had an experience where a lack of sufficient access to one of these 5 groups made a change project more difficult?
Incoming search terms:
- First-level leaders chart