How the right attitude and behaviour of a Change Agent drives change:
Subconsciously, we all have the ability to do two things in life; maintain things as they are (homeostasis) and adapt to new and different circumstances. Whilst many of us may lean towards maintaining homeostasis, we can in fact all effect change if we understand it (and crucially if we want it).
But successful adaptation at a personal level can be hard to achieve if we are inside an organisation or work culture that is better at enforcing the status quo than trying to allow something new; in these environments, even if we want to trial a different approach, we can often feel stuck.
So, what does it take to be truly good, or at least better, at change?
Organisations tend to perform well when they enlist the help of Change Agents (see definition, right). These people have the attitudes and behaviours needed to drive change forward, and display three key attributes:
- They understand WHY change is necessary, and HOW to make it stick
- They are willing and able to COMMUNICATE this, and keep communicating throughout the change
- They are prepared to LEAD the change (not just remotely enforce it)
Here, we explore some of these attributes to explain why they are so important, and the value they bring.
Understanding the ‘why’ and the ‘how’
Successful Change Agents truly understand the need for change; they think big to see how breaking away from the current situation or view will be beneficial. Only with this clear purpose and vision can a roadmap for that change journey be considered.
But they don’t just stick to the high level. They know that unless everyone in an organisation can understand the change at this fundamental level, they simply won’t engage, so they work to understand the impact on three key levels:
- Team or Workgroup
- Whole Organisation
They also recognise what it’ll take to gain momentum and make the change stick, i.e. be widely adopted and become a long-term success.
Communication, Communication, Communication
Many of us have experienced the Senior Manager Cost Challenge Syndrome, where a big message explaining the ‘why’ (“Costs must be reduced!” or “A restructure is an advantage!”) is delivered but doesn’t land with the people receiving it. Great Change Agents can not only understand the ‘why’, but are also able to communicate it meaningfully.
Effective two-way communication is crucial throughout the whole change journey. As people try to adapt and re-evaluate, moving away from clinging to the old ‘known’ world, emotions can run high and there can be fear and unrest. Change Agents know exactly how to manage this. They understand it’s only through lots of great and consistent communication that organisations can move forward together. It’s only through consistent dialogue (internal and external) that we move to adaptation.
What does all that communication result in? Typically, small groups of people will start to emerge that create new meaning, new understanding and importantly new possibilities and ideas; the change starts to ‘go viral’.
Taking the Lead
Firstly, we should be clear that being a leader is not a hierarchical description, but an attitudinal one.
Change Agents are patient. Beginning a change journey is a bit like trying to light a fire with sticks while out camping; it takes a lot of patience and is a delicate process before a spark ignites. Those with the right attitude that possess this patience are usually in one of two positions: leading by example or helping others get through it and enrolling them in the process.
Change Agents are bold. They tend to know that changing always demands some form of personal risk, which they are willing to take on: be it swimming against the tide of opinion, challenging someone perceived as more influential than you, or giving a new idea a go while not fully knowing what the impact will be. They are motivated for reasons outside their own personal gain, understanding that there’s a bigger cause or purpose at stake that contributes to a greater good and benefits others.
Change agents have strong emotional intelligence. Because we are all human, change is not merely achieved by simply having a good reason. It gets emotional, it often gets messy and it means trial and error and failure along the way. Being able to understand these emotions, and deal with them, is therefore essential. Unless you can fully empathise with others’ perspectives and see it clearly from their point of view, it will be an incredibly hard journey.
This lack of understanding of how the journey is experienced by others is one of the biggest failings we come across in organisations. People in senior positions of influence often don’t understand this fundamental point. Instead they will often ignore others’ views or attempt to impose change on employees rather than leading it with them. In the most extreme situations the result is superficial change (at the task, transactional level) or the change unravels quickly or remains patchy.
Creating and identifying powerful Change Agents is, we believe, the secret to success. It’s important to acknowledge them, invest in them and promote them. Because for every Agent of Change there is likely a Sheepwalker* – a deeply sceptical person, who is stuck in a negative place who needs inspiration, understanding and support.
How many of these exist in your organisation vs. how many you think your change programme(s) need? Get in touch to find out more about how to find and grow this critical resource pool.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” -Maya Angelou