Everything changes and nothing stands still. This logic may have been around since the ancient Greeks, but that doesn’t mean a modern team will react well when management says things can’t stay the same. People fear change, and rarely hide their feelings when they sense their routine is under threat. For some, a new approach will represent unwanted upheaval; others may fear for their jobs.
Even when change is clearly designed to improve organisational functions, a business will need someone spearheading the transition, a leader charged with understanding the change, establishing just how it will affect the team, and communicating that information to everyone, to ensure they’re all happy to go on the journey together.
This is the change agent. An effective change agent will ensure the transition to this new road involves a smooth, gentle turn, rather than a panicked skid of screeches, screaming and smoke. As such they can expect to wear many hats: from researcher to trainer and even counsellor. Yet one thing remains constant – their focus is on the people in the business, and how these organisational changes will affect them, their tasks and their interactions.
Making change work
Recent research by the Harvard Business Review identified five key competencies for change management:
- Demonstrating flexibility and resilience
- Recognising growth opportunities
- Striding for results
- Leading courageously
- Gaining buy-in
All qualities you want in your change agent. But you don’t always have to recruit to find the perfect person. They may well be lurking in your team. Here’s a checklist of what to look out for, or to nurture.
An effective change agent will:
Know the benefits the changes will bring. They’ll understand the bigger picture and how the plans for change fit with the company’s past – while also having the patience to play the long game.
Stay in touch with the human side of change. Even changes to the office stationery supply can cause issues to bubble up, and reactions only become more potent as the stakes get higher. Change agents must remain visible and listen to their team all the time, remaining sensitive to their needs in order to get the most from all the different characters in the room.
Balance this emotional intelligence with a relentless focus on the bottom line. If they care too much about what everyone thinks, nothing will ever get done. Change agents have to use their authority if financial performance isn’t to suffer. So while they’ll take in people’s attitudes and emotions, they’ll still focus on concrete results.
Embody the change. They’ll know their terrain well and won’t wait for permission – they’ll take a risk and expect it to pay off. And above all they’ll show that they’re in it as much as anyone else by walking the talk.
Open up the process. As well as having one eye on the results, the change agent will also understand how to get there: brainstorming with the rest of the team and being open to incorporating their knowledge. They should be a catalyst for change, rather than shouldering the burden. Once that ball is in the air, make sure it’s being passed around among everyone.
Remember what’s great about the business already. Business is all about stability, so the old ways shouldn’t be abandoned entirely for the allure of the new. The change agent must manage continuity, valuing stability in the face of all this other change.