When you act as an internal Change Agent, you need to pay especially close attention to the context around your innovative idea. A lack of awareness could sink your change before it gets out of the gate!
In the first article of this series, titled “Bloom Where You’re Planted: Part One”, I wrote about how Change Agents don’t necessarily need to be “bosses” – or even have resources – in order to instigate change. Sometimes the best, most innovative ideas come from change agents toiling in the trenches. Many would argue that’s because they have better insight from being closest to the point where the most tangible business value is created.
Great ideas and the momentum organizations will need to get them implemented can be driven by executives, managers or even individual team members – as long as they diligently address a few practical change-related activities. I listed four critical steps:
1. Clarify your idea.
2. Consider the context.
3. Leverage your expertise.
4. Demonstrate a positive impact first – then try to save the world.
In the earlier post, I mentioned that an important first step for Change Agents who wish to “bloom where they’re planted” involves getting very specific about the change they are about to propose. They should recognize that every idea could benefit from a bit of legitimate analysis and sharpening prior to its being advocated at a broader level.
Now Consider the Context: A great second step to generating positive momentum from within the organization is to take the time to consider the overall context within which it would potentially unfold. Demonstrate that you have a genuine global perspective about what you think needs to happen and awareness of who might be impacted.
Capture how your idea will benefit the organization on three levels:
– Globally: Show how it advances your company’s overall strategy.
– Locally: Give evidence of how it will result in your division or your team being more effective.
– Externally: Describe what positive impacts your customers will experience from the change.
Being able to address the perspectives of these three audiences can really help demonstrate to others that you have a broad understanding of the transformation. It can also uncover (and start to address) gaps in your logic and this should lay the groundwork for engaging stakeholders within these groups who might view your proposal quite differently.
Avoid Assumptions: I’ve written in the past about how one of the greatest failures of Executive Change Agents is that they automatically assume most people in their organization will think rationally about a given change. (“Of course they’ll just get it.”) Ground-level change agents can benefit from knowing that people rarely promote the positive impacts of a change until they have first processed the individualized impact they can expect to feel and come to grips with how they’ll personally adapt. The best change leaders don’t make this assumption; they do the legwork of explaining and listening so they can verify understanding.
Avoid a Pair of Rookie Mistakes: There are two other considerations Change Agents should account for when studying the context for their change. First, take the time to consider which individuals have the most to gain or lose if your change is successfully implemented. You can expect these folks to come out of the woodwork once the ball gets rolling, so take the initiative to understand their needs as early as possible.
Secondly, the most effective instigators of change are also careful to consider their surroundings to avoid “unforced errors”. They bounce their ideas off of peers and vet them with others before launching them. For example, they do a bit of homework before leaping up and shouting out their frustrations in a crowded town hall meeting.
So don’t forget to review your understanding of the context before you charge ahead to the next step of advancing your innovation: Think Like an Expert Witness.
That will be the topic of our next discussion.
Summary: Change Agents who are not blessed with resources or the political power to demand change still have a pathway to success. They can borrow a couple pages from the boss’s handbook and clearly define their change while considering other frames of reference and building momentum for a great idea.
Questions for Chatter:
1. Who in your organization may have strongly supportive opinions about your change? Who might disagree with the need for it?
2. What business units, teams, processes and roles will be most impacted by your innovation? Who could give you more insight into how the change will affect these individuals and teams?