Smart Change Agent Tricks

Apr 26, 2011 No Comments by

What can Change Agents do to have the maximum positive impact in their role? In my last post I introduced the idea that it can help to first realize that everyone on the team can positively influence successful change. In other words – everyone on the team is a Change Agent.

There are also several key behaviors that can make a Change Agent more effective. The first two I shared were:

1. Understand the Big Why & the Big What: It’s hard to be an effective proponent of something you don’t understand, so Change Agents should start by figuring out exactly what the group is trying to accomplish and how that change will impact people.

2. Own it. Once you have accepted being on the hook as an individual representative, the most effective behaviors I’ve seen from a team of Change Agents is to borrow a page from the world of poker and “go all in“.

See my last post to learn more about these two ideas.

What Else? What other behaviors can Change Agents demonstrate in order to really have an impact on their stakeholders?  Consider these techniques I’ve seen Change Agents use to successfully influence the adoption process:

3. First Consider Yourself a Target. When you represent a change, people can tell if you’re really on board with it yourself.  If you waver in your support for the change, you can expect Resistors to exploit that sense of doubt.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who will be asked to adopt the change.  This should be easy if the change involves processes you are already involved in, (for example the hiring process should be quite familiar to a  Human Resources Manager). Try going through all possible scenarios using the new process to make sure you really believe its a good idea.

If you are not directly involved in the process being changed, go spend some time with a few people who are directly impacted.  Ask a lot of questions and uncover what makes them nervous.

Be honest about the areas where you don’t have answers yet. Empathize & listen without commiserating. Make note of any questions you have or they have about the change. Don’t be satisfied until you get good answers and your doubts and fears are adequately addressed.

4. You Might Try Changing the Change: When you identify with those who will be impacted by your change, you may see things from a completely different view.  You may also start to have serious questions about the viability of your the team’s approach to implementing the change. Don’t be surprised if some of your questions force the team to adapt the change to be more realistic.

The best way to know for sure that you can get behind the change is to first see yourself as an impacted stakeholder.  As you go through the adoption process yourself, you’ll better understand what you’re supporting and you’ll be a more effective Change Agent. When you feel you can honestly support the change – get out there and make it happen.

5. Pollyanna Need Not Apply! Please know that I’m not talking about Change Agents offering blind support for their new ideas here. Unfounded support is one of my pet peeves when it comes to Change Agents and their role in supporting the desired future state.

I have found that it’s absolutely useless to pump people up with hollow rah-rah slogans and blind, unsubstantiated support for a change.

Be sure to ask yourself some hard questions about the change before you try to convince others to go along with it. For example:

  • Will it make things better in the short term, the long term or not at all?
  • Will the process be easier or harder initially?
  • If it will take time to adapt, how long should we expect it to take?
  • What kind of training & support should be provided?
  • What are people giving up to adopt this change?
  • What are the good and “not-so-good” aspects of the change?
  • Who’s going to love it and who might hate it?
  • Is this how you would have done things if it were your choice?
  • Why is the change needed right now?
  • …and so forth…

These questions might start to sound familiar as you interact with a wider audience.  It’s a good idea to avoid canned talking points when answering them and stick with honest answers you believe in.

Above all, avoid hitting people with blind support for your change if you haven’t got the facts to back it up.  Not only can stakeholders see right through false enthusiasm, the Pollyanna view that everything about your change is great for everyone actually denies reality and undermines your credibility! In fact, there are very few significant organizational changes that are great for everyone – and not all that many that are mostly positive for most people.

Finally, nearly all change involve asking someone to give something up. Even positive change can mean letting go of things folks are comfortable with. Even the most ineffective old patterns can be quite ingrained into people’s collective work patterns. Denying that people are losing something is basically fortifying their first line of resistance.

Summary: Sometimes when we’re asked to be a Change Agent, it can be easy to forget what it’s like for those on the receiving end of our work.

It can also be tempting to blindly go along with the change.  This kind of support can be risky however, if we start to have genuine doubts late in the adoption process just when others are looking to us for help in making their own transitions.

When Change Agents waver, it can undermine their credibility and lessen the strength of their case for the positive elements of the change. Those who have doubts or questions about their change would do well to get satisfactory answers before standing in front of others to represent the change.


Questions for Chatter

  1. What has been your reaction when someone brings a unrealistically optimistic approach to a big change?
  2. How can Change Agents seek to understand the needs of stakeholders who work in remote locations?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
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