The best-in-class change leaders know that successful change is a team effort.
The pattern goes something like this: executive leaders discover an opportunity and start to create a sense of urgency; the senior management layer below these leaders clarify the new direction and share this unified vision with the organization; the middle management layer start moving their lips and legs, acting in the new ways that move the company towards the goal and slowly grassroots changes take form. The change becomes a part of the company’s DNA and a new culture (e.g. trust, norms, and values) emerges.
Deceptively simple, right?
In almost every change effort I have led, I have enlisted a “dream team” to help the company catalyze positive, successful and sustainable change. Often called change agent networks, these advocate networks served as a powerful engine to unite people behind the change. These individuals possessed the “cultural intelligence” that was needed to accelerate implementation momentum.
Put simply, it helped the change go faster, smarter and more efficiently.
According to Prosci’s 2016 edition of the Best Practices in Change Management research report, 39% of research participants leveraged formal change agent networks to support change implementation. These initiatives reported greater returns because they were able to extend project support, enhance their engagement efforts, build credibility and boost ownership of the change.
The change agent networks I have built typically consisted of a diverse group of people charged with leading change - individuals from multiple levels, across functions and silos, with different areas of expertise.
These people are impacted by the change initiative and hold greater influence than others, no matter where they sit within the ranks. They are the people whom others seek out for guidance.
When I go in to help an organization through a big change management effort, I’ll often look for the people who are credible, respected and influential and sometimes, experienced in change management. I’ll work through nominations put forth by leaders, giving them specific selection criteria as well.
Once these change agents have been identified, I meet with them in-person or virtually to engage them in their roles and gain their favour. I give them a “master class” on change agency. I build trust by investing in each person’s “emotional bank account”, something I learned from Stephen Covey. I strengthen these relationships through continuous “deposits” - small ways to improve their day, meaningful recognition and being kind - before I ask to make a “withdrawal”. These asks may come in the form of a communication, leadership, training or coaching role on behalf of the implementation team. It’s a great way to leverage your human capital efficiently to extend the scope and reach of your initiative.
Think of these individuals as your “door-knockers”, as they can mobilize others through their communication and networking skills. They’re driven and persuasive and can give you amazing insights into your strategy. I hold them accountable for adoption and, as such, provide them with adoption toolkits to aid them in their efforts. Because they’re serving as the eyes and ears of change, they often identify areas of resistance and issues encountered amongst their vast networks. They're a positive force for change amongst their peers, and their informal networks have proved more influential than formal communication channels in many situations.
If you’re implementing change within your organization, find and harness the energy, passion, and influence of change agents to minimize resistance and increase your odds of success. Get these people on board early and you will gain rapid adoption and a change that is now within the routines and rhythms of the organization - maybe even without a blip on the Richter scale.