The Change Agent role can be tough. Most people who are asked to contribute to making change happen start out with a fairly optimistic attitude and all the best intentions of being effective Change Agents.
Some follow through and end up having a great positive impact while others prove to be less effective. Two common success factors I’ve seen with teams that make the most of the Change Agent opportunity are:
- a recognition that all team members are Change Agents
- a willingness to set high behavioral expectations for the Change Agent role up front.
When working with clients, I often facilitate the team through the process of setting specific Change Agent expectations early in the project. We periodically re-visit these behaviors, attitudes, deliverables and guiding principles during the course of the project and make adjustments as needed.
Is It A Pipe Dream? I’ll admit that some teams don’t see the value in doing this. Others go through the motions of agreement at the start of the project only to drop the ball on execution once the whirlwind of “real work” begins. How can you improve your team’s chances of Change Agent effectiveness?
It can help if this expectation-setting process is facilitated in a serious way, accomplished early in the project and followed up with regular check-in activities that are written into the project plan long before crunch time hits.
I usually document Change Agent expectations as we agree to them and create a follow-up list for the team called “What Your Teammates Need From You”.
Below are two examples of behavioral expectations which members of my past project teams have agreed to follow as Change Agents. I will share a few more in my next post – and you may notice that some of them are quite frank. Some of them are a bit more hopeful than realistic. All are honest expressions of what the team members felt they could contribute – as long as they knew their peers would do the same.
Behavior #1: Understand the Big Why and the Big What: It’s critical that Change Agents thoroughly understand why the team has been established and demonstrate how completing the project supports organizational goals as well as the goals of their business area.
I typically call the Mission and Vision of a project “the Big Why” and “the Big What”. It can really help if all team members publicly agree to these focal points and demonstrate this alignment for the life of the project. It can also help team members prioritize their work if everyone has this same shared understanding of the mission and vision.
On the flip side – what would happen if a few of the people who are being asked to guide adoption of your change really didn’t believe that the change is even needed? Would you trust them to deliver and defend the core messages of your change in front of a potentially hostile audience? Would you count on them to root out resistance and help people adapt to the new way of doing things? Or might they unknowingly contribute to undermining the change?
Behavior #2: Own It: I had one client team member express this concept in very simple terms as we waited outside the company boardroom to make our final pitch for project funding. He said “Once we walk in there, we’re either all in or we’re all out”.
If any team member reserves the right to pull out of the consensus when the going gets tough, there’s a good chance they will. Not only will they be ineffective Change Agents when faced with real resistance from impacted stakeholders – they will also open the door for others to bail out when the heat is on.
Nearly every team I have facilitated through this exercise has benefited from being called out on this point of commitment. In a few cases, I am almost certain the team would have imploded at some point if they had not set the critical “All In” expectation ahead of time.
In my next post I will share more of the behavioral expectations that effective Change Agents set for each other. In the meantime, feel free to comment on this post and suggest any Change Agent behaviors that you have seen work well on your projects.
Questions for Chatter:
- Is it reasonable to expect people to frankly share behavioral expectations at work? Isn’t that a bit “touchy-feely”?
- Have you been on a project team that experienced a positive outcome by talking about Change Agent behaviors up-front?