No one sets out to introduce and implement organizational change initiatives that fail, and yet, Gartner found that half of change initiatives do, and only 34% of those that don’t are a clear success.
One possible reason for this that is often discussed is that there is a disconnect between upper management who create the strategy and those on the frontline who tactically have to implement it.
To alleviate this problem, a strong group of leaders and individual contributors must be able to use their authority, influence, and social capital to facilitate change from the middle. You may also know them as change agents.
In the following article, we’ll define what a change agent is in the workplace, outline the four common types of change agents, and discuss the five characteristics the best change agents have in common.
Change Agent Definition
A change agent is someone who facilitates, coordinates, and manages organizational change initiatives. They are not responsible for creating the strategy but rather for encouraging its adoption and implementation among frontline leaders and employees. Change agents do this by wielding either formal or informal power, using their influence, and tapping into their network of relationships.
McKinsey also notes that “[Change agents] provide technical know-how and the social support needed by managers and front line teams alike. [They] fix problems too by using their knowledge and contacts to detect and diffuse political issues that might otherwise threaten to derail the initiative.”
Given this, change agents can be middle managers, department heads, team leaders, or even those in the organization without formal authority, such as individual contributors with seniority, extensive experience, or strong interpersonal influence.
4 Types of Change Agents
Every change agent will take a slightly different approach to the role depending on their past experiences, level of training, and personality. But, of course, some similarities are bound to appear. In fact, the authors of “Organizational Change: An Action-Oriented Toolkit,” took a closer look at this and noted that it is common to see the following four types of change agents emerge in the workplace:
- Emotional Champion - This type of change agent uses their influence and emotional intelligence to move the change initiative forward. They rely heavily on the vision for the change to connect with others.
- Developmental Strategist - This type of change agent is particularly good at seeing the bigger picture when it comes to change and uses logic to explain the rationale behind the change to others.
- Intuitive Adapter - This type of change agent is all about achieving the vision through continuous improvement, taking calculated risks, and learning through trial and error.
- Continuous Improver - This type of change agent thinks systematically and focuses on what processes need to be changed, eliminated, or created to achieve to make the change initiative a success.
5 Characteristics That Will Help You Be an Effective Change Agent
Facilitating, coordinating, and managing change is never easy, but having the right tools, skills, and qualities can help you. In fact, here are five characteristics that will help you be the best possible change agent you can possibly be:
Change rarely goes as planned. Therefore, change agents need to be resilient to respond, adapt, and overcome adversity, change, loss, and risk. Resilience also allows you to bounce back when things don’t go as planned and course correct as needed when crises arise.
With any change comes uncertainty and that uncertainty can breed resistance and fear if you let it. One way to counteract this is with transparency. Transparent change agents explain the rationale behind the change, openly communicate about metrics, own what they don’t know but are willing to figure out, and welcome questions that challenge them. It’s not easy to be transparent, but it is greatly respected and appreciated in today’s workplace.
Charismatic change agents have the uncanny ability to motivate and inspire others to listen, follow, and take action. They do this through strong leadership communication, confidence, assertiveness, humility, and passion that connects with their audience on a deeper, emotional level.
When you have a plan for change, it can be challenging to handle difficult questions and accept things like criticism, feedback, or suggestions. But the fact is, those you are leading through change can have incredibly valuable and insightful feedback that are worth listening to. For that reason, being an open-minded change agent is crucial to success.
When you have empathy, you sense the emotions of others, try to see the world through their eyes, and make an effort to share their perspective. This is a crucial characteristic, as those implementing the change on the frontlines will need empathy from those leading them as they experience all the trials and tribulations that inevitably come with change.
Conclusion: Change Agents + Niagara Institute = A Winning Combination
As with nearly anything else in the workplace, becoming an effective change agent takes practice, time, and experience. Fortunately, you can accelerate that process by investing in development opportunities, such as Niagara Institute’s Change Management training program, that give you practical knowledge, hands-on practice, and tangible tools, rather than theory, that can be applied easily to your day-to-day life as a change agent.
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