Before Assisting Others: 10 Ways Change Agents Can Prepare to Help Others

Apr 26, 2014 No Comments by

Delta Airlines VideoIf you’ve ever flown on a commercial aircraft, you’re probably familiar with the pre-flight safety briefing in which a parade of cheerful flight attendants describe what to do in case of an in-flight emergency.

They point out the exits and the life rafts. They show us how to manually inflate a life vest.

They warn us not to smoke or walk around when the “fasten seatbelt” sign is lit.

They also give us the rundown on how to use an oxygen mask in case the cabin loses pressure. I snapped a picture of the instruction card on a recent flight for illustration:

secure your own mask firstI’ve always been intrigued with the logic behind that friendly, yet forceful admonition about how we should don those oxygen masks. The rule is:

“Please secure your own mask before assisting others”.

It makes sense that everyone gets a mask and each person is sort of responsible for themselves, so most people will get the thing on without help. It also seems that more people will get their masks on if each person is focused first on getting their own nose covered. (Even so, I still think I might be drawn to help my spouse and kids first. I might also be tempted to hide the mask from the nosey/noisy guy who sat next to me on my last flight and wouldn’t stop talking…)

After a little noodling on this subject, I came to realize the most important reason to get my own mask on first is that I wouldn’t be of much use to my neighbor or anyone else if I couldn’t breathe. So I guess I will probably end up following the rules and secure my own mask first if this frightful case ever comes up.

Not Just For Flyers: This air travel advice applies to Change Agents too.

You might recall a while back I introduced a little graph called “the change curve”. It shows how people tend to react to change along their journey toward either accepting of rejecting it. One premise of the change curve is that Change Agents will typically be more effective if they go through the change prior to helping others. For the full article, click the picture or click here. 

theBigRocks Change Curve 042514


Since the primary mission of a Change Agent is to help folks make it through this curve, today I’ll share five ways you can get yourself ready to guide people through change. In my next article, I’ll share five more.

Most of these are common sense, but I believe the best things often occur when common sense is executed diligently.

Ten Ways Change Agents Can Prepare to Help Others.

1. Dig In: Seek first to understand the goals and underlying rationale for the upcoming change. Get involved with the team implementing the change whenever that opportunity is presented. Instead of waiting for the last minute to learn about what’s coming, go find out for yourself.

2. Feel It: Be honest about your own initial reactions to the change. Make note of your first impressions when confronted with the scope and depth of the change.

nervous dudeDoes it seem simple or complex?

Will it hit you hard personally?

How does your level of impact compare to others in the organization?

Did you feel a bit nervous about your own ability to figure things out and prosper in the new world once the change is implemented?

Does the change seem to introduce a risk that you won’t know how to do your job well?

All of these early impressions are very real as they happen, but sometimes we forget that we had any fear or concern once the change has been completed. So make a few mental notes as they occur.

Being cognizant of your own emotions as you go through change will be useful later as you help others through that process.

3. Question Things: Ask those involved in rolling out the change to answer your hardest questions about the future. Be adamant about getting answers. When they tell you that some things haven’t been figured out yet, keep asking until you get satisfaction. Be sure that you fully understand:question guy in red w border

.     – what the change involves,

.     – what it will mean to you,

.     – why the organization is making these changes

.     – when things will happen,

.     – who’s involved

.     – how the change will unfold,

.     – how you should prepare,

.     – and where to go for help.

These are all questions that others could possibly ask of you once you begin working as a Change Agent, so it’s going to help you be more effective if you get answers early. It will also help you resist to the urge to guess at the answers. 

4. Do Your Homework: As a target of the change, accomplish whatever training or preparation will be required to get ready. Make note of how challenging or easy the process and material appears to you.

This awareness will help you when others go through the same learning experience later.

5. Be Skeptical – Until You’re Ready to be Supportive: Regular readers of this blog know I’m not a fan of “Pollyanna” Change Agent behavior.


It’s not enough to be upbeat about your change – Change Agents need to be realistic to be truly helpful!

If that term is new to you, it means blindly singing the praises of something we don’t fully understand. (also known as: Mindless Cheerleading)  Click here to read my earlier article called “Smart Change Agent Tricks” to learn more about why the “Pollyanna” approach is such a crummy way to drive lasting change adoption.

The problem with blind support is that it typically collapses under the weight of the real concerns that often pop up during the adoption of change.

I don’t mean to imply that getting excited about your change is a bad thing. In fact, the opposite is true! It will be very helpful to your cause if you view the change positively and express excitement about it. Just don’t do so without a full understanding of the good, the bad and the ugly parts of what you are supporting.

Don’t rest until your concerns are addressed. Of course, once they are addressed, get on board in a tangible way so people know you are going to out and about helping your mates through  similar challenges.

So there are the first five things you can do to prepare yourself to be an effective Change Agent.

I’ll offer five more in my next post. Rosey Get Crackin

In Summary: Get Busy!  It’s hard to help anyone with change adoption if we are resistant to the change or dragging our feet when it comes to our own preparation.

I encourage Change Agents to imagine themselves guiding their fellow stakeholders through the change curve by staying just a little bit ahead of their stakeholders in the personal change adoption process.

If you are okay with the likelihood that being a Change Agent means you will have to “go first”, and invest a little more up-front effort than the other folks, you’ll probably do quite well.


Questions to Chatter:

  1. What can you do if you and the other Change Agents are thrown into the fire at the same time as everyone else?
  2. Have ever been asked to support a change you really didn’t believe in? How did that effect your ability to help others through the adoption process?







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

About the author

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