Implementing new processes, adopting new technology, reorganizing company structure… these are a few of the many changes your business will undergo at some point to remain viable and thrive.
But the thing about change is it brings both opportunities and challenges.
If executed correctly, your team can transition smoothly while maximizing potential benefits. If not, you’ll find yourself dealing with confusion, resistance and even failure.
Having a clear and well-communicated plan for managing change is important, but it’s not enough. You also need someone to steer the transformation toward success—someone who will be your organization’s change agent.
What is a change agent & why do you need one?
A change agent is an individual (sometimes a group of individuals) responsible for leading and facilitating new methods and processes within a business. The terms ‘advocate of change’ or ‘change champion’ are used synonymously with change agent.
Change management involves dealing with business transition and process transformation systematically to successfully implement strategies, control change and help people adapt to the change.
By promoting, supporting and enabling change, change agents make effective change management possible. They play a critical role in helping employees adapt to new circumstances, such as working with new hires, software adoption and implementing a new business strategy.
Here are a few ways a change agent can help your business:
- Expert knowledge: A change agent has specialized knowledge in change management and organizational development. With this expertise, they can easily identify the best course of action and help team members implement changes smoothly.
- Facilitation: A change agent proactively engages with stakeholders and employees to communicate the vision for change, as well as assist to facilitate the change process. Employees also view them as a neutral party, which is helpful in situations where there’s resistance from certain employees.
- Support: A change agent provides specialized support to employees throughout the change process. This helps the latter better understand the reasons for the change and use the provided resources and training to adapt to the new reality.
In a nutshell, a change agent ensures all changes are implemented smoothly and effectively. By providing expertise and facilitating and supporting change management, they enable your employees to navigate change and achieve goals faster.
What are the roles & responsibilities of a change agent?
A change agent wears many different hats. Depending on the specific needs of your company, they’ll have different roles and responsibilities to effectively implement organizational change.
The key roles of a change agent in an organization
Generally speaking, change agents have the following four roles to manage change:
Team members must understand and support change for any transition to be successful. Without effective change management communication, none of your initiatives will be successful.
In fact, a Gartner study found that 73 percent of employees experience moderate to high levels of stress due to poor change communication. The fact that the affected employees perform 5 percent less than the average employee makes matters worse.
Acting as a communicator and advocate, a change agent can get buy-in from employees and stakeholders to smoothly implement changes across the organization.
A change agent also doubles as a change consultant to ensure the free flow of data from the management to employees and vice versa. Further, they analyze this data to provide actionable insights to employees, helping the latter understand the new ways of doing things and work accordingly.
Another important role of a change agent is solving current problems plaguing your business and anticipating and eliminating future concerns. They also conduct competitive analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization’s change management strategy and make changes if necessary.
A change manager trains employees to help them learn new skills and better prepare for the newly implemented changes. This is the primary reason a change agent can easily overcome resistance from team members, getting them on board to adapt to change.
The key responsibilities of a change agent in an organization
Keeping in line with the different roles, a change agent performs various activities. These include:
- Communicating change initiative goals and vision to those who will be affected.
- Highlighting potential benefits and drawbacks of proposed change initiatives.
- Acknowledging employee reaction to change and advocating for the change management activity to mediate contention and resistance.
- Collecting feedback from involved team members and incorporating it into the implementation process.
- Engaging with stakeholders and other impacted individuals to address concerns and collect feedback.
- Providing training and resources to help employees adapt to change
- Anticipating, evaluating and counteracting areas of potential dispute and disruption.
- Conducting change management exercises to engage employees
- Encouraging employees to become chain champions and promote the benefits of change initiatives.
- Leading other change agents and change consultants to success
- Giving management feedback on challenges when leading change management.
- Monitoring and managing project objectives.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of change initiatives.
Of course, this is a high-level gist of a change agent’s responsibilities. Ideally, they should be ready to lead, solve problems and communicate to smooth the transition process.
Understanding the different types of change agents
Every change initiative has unique requirements. It’s why you need specific change agents to effectively support them.
The following are the three types of change agents you should know:
People-focused change agents
This type of change agent focuses on boosting employee morale and motivation to help individual employees cope with the new rules or processes. They exercise control over problems like absenteeism, turnover and lower work quality through effective behavior modification, job enrichment and goal setting.
Example: An L&D professional tasked with training and supporting team members during a change initiative.
Operational and organizational structure change agents
This type of change agent has a single job: optimize the organizational structure to improve efficiency. They change a business’s structure and technology using analytical processes like policy studies, operations research and assistance analysis.
Example: An internal researcher or consultant who is tasked to identify changes required to optimize operations.
Internal process change agents
This type of change agent focuses on internal processes, such as communication, decision-making and improving interpersonal relationships. They conduct sensitivity training, team building and employee surveys to optimize a company’s culture to reflect the changes.
Example: A director or manager who takes on the responsibility to implement new software.
How to identify & prepare a change agent for your organization?
Identifying and preparing a change agent is an admittedly complex process. But it’s a crucial initiative to successfully implement change initiatives.
Traditionally speaking, business leaders expect senior managers to become change agents. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, if the senior managers don’t have the necessary personal qualities, they’re unlikely to be effective.
When implementing any change initiative, transformation always takes place at a local level. A good tip to ensure success is having change agents at every level. identify staff with the right mix of skills, knowledge and credibility in each area of the business and use them as change agents.
Each change agent you choose should:
- Have a deep understanding of their area of business and where it fits in the overall organization.
- Be well-respected by individuals they are expected to influence.
- Have strong working relationships with their colleagues.
Note that not every change initiative requires an internal change agent (an individual already existing in the organization). You can also bring in one from outside (also called an external change agent) if you don’t have anyone up to do the job effectively.
If you choose to hire an external change agent, assign someone internal to shadow them. This will help your internal employee to learn the ropes (think: which change management models to apply, how to win buy-in, etc) and ultimately become a change agent.
Here are some steps you can take to identify and prepare a change agent within your organization:
Step 1: Define the change to be implemented
What change do you want to implement in your organization? What goals do you hope to achieve through it?
Figure out the answers to these questions before you start identifying a change agent. This will help you shortlist the right candidates with the appropriate skills and expertise to realize the change.
Step 2: Identify potential change agents
Look for individuals with the skills, experience and personality traits that would make them effective change agents. Ideally, you want someone with the following characteristics and qualities:
- Understands your vision.
- Broad and specialized expertise.
- Persistent but patient.
- Strong negotiator and communicator.
- Creative and pragmatic.
- Leads by example.
- Strong interpersonal skills.
- Ability to influence others.
You can look for this individual within your organization or outside. Be flexible; focus on picking the most suitable person for the job.
Step 3: Involve the potential change agents in the planning process
This step is necessary to familiarize the potential change agent with the change initiatives you plan on implementing.
Encourage them to participate in the planning process so that they feel invested in the success of the initiative and are well-prepared to take on their roles and responsibilities. In the end, you should have a better idea of which candidate makes the best bit for the job. Pick them.
Step 4: Provide training and support
Once you’ve identified your change agent, provide them with the necessary training and support to help them carry out their responsibilities effectively. This can include mentorship, training or coaching in the latest change management principles and techniques.
Step 5: Foster a supportive environment
Your change agent needs to feel supported and empowered to give results. Create a supportive environment where they can work effectively and feel confident in taking on their role and driving change.
What techniques does a change agent use to prepare a company to enact powerful change?
Effective change agents leverage various change management strategies and techniques to support and enact organizational change.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most common change agent techniques and strategies:
Influencing & persuasion
Influencing and convincing employees and stakeholders about the need for and the benefits of a change initiative is a crucial part of a change agent’s job description. The tactics used to realize this varies depending on the activities and the team that needs to be persuaded. This includes:
- Using data and facts to support the reasoning behind embracing the change. This makes it difficult for employees to counter-argue and more likely to change their working habits to support the change initiative.
- Controlling the flow of interaction. Change agents usually start persuading employees with facts and evidence, immediately followed by helping them understand its positive impact and seeking employee agreement on the current position. This helps them win employee trust, opening a line of communication between them and the change agent.
- Holding short, succinct and jargon-free conversations. Change agents usually only address a single topic. They divide a complex topic into individual items and then focus on explaining each item so it’s easy to comprehend for employees. They also avoid jargon, and if needed, always use it in context.
- Prioritization. Change agents prioritize engagement for topics they expect easier agreements. When advocating for change initiatives, they focus on gaining agreement on principles and outcomes instead of low-level activities. This helps them avoid progress bottlenecks, plus they can always open discussions on low-level items later if the outcomes and principles they were based on need to be changed.
Successful change agents have a deep-level understanding of human behavior—why people say and do things. To make this happen, they use the transactional analysis strategy.
Derived from a combination of psychology and psychotherapy concepts, transactional analysis makes it easier to understand the other person’s mental perspective, thereby facilitating negotiation.
Stakeholder analysis is a project management technique that involves analyzing and categorizing all types of shareholders directly involved or likely to be affected by the change initiatives. Change agents can use this technique to assess how to address stakeholder interests and get them on board with the transformation and avoid disruptions.
MoSCoW analysis is a prioritization technique that stands for:
- Must have.
- Should have.
- Could have.
- Won’t have.
Change agents use this technique to understand stakeholders and the importance they place on delivering each requirement. They build a matrix with the four prioritization categories on one axis and each stakeholder on the other axis. Note that there is one matrix for each requirement identified in the transformation strategy.
Change agents and use the output from the MoSCoW analysis to refine their influencing strategy for different stakeholders, taking care to prioritize everything marked as a ‘must have.‘
WIIFM is the acronym for ‘What’s in it for me?‘ and change agents must answer this before they build on their influencing approach.
Change agents use WIIFM to evaluate the effect of the transformation, both negative and positive, from the perspective of individual people. They consider the personality, needs and role of the person, as well as the tangible effect change initiatives are likely to have on them.
With the WIIFM approach, change agents can prepare a strategy and approach that’s more likely to convince others to adopt the new way of doing things. They can also use it during one-on-one conversations to get appropriate answers to questions.
Good change agents understand influencing is a two-way street. Therefore, in addition to providing information, they must also listen and acknowledge the concerns of people affected by the transformation.
By practicing active learning, change agents make it clear to the other person they are not just listening but also understanding and considering what the other person is saying through their words and body language. They also take notes mentally and use listening skills and visual signals to understand the true meaning of what’s being said.
5 Change agent challenges
Implementing change within an organization is a hard job. Here are some common change agent challenges to know:
Resistance to change
Change agents should be prepared for teams to resist change initiatives. They have to put in the work to overcome resistance and help team members understand the benefits of the proposed changes.
Change agents may not have the resources, such as time, money or even personnel, needed to successfully implement change. This makes it difficult to carry out their work effectively.
Lack of leadership support and limited buy-in
Change agents may face challenges if they don't have the support of leadership— or if leadership isn't committed to the change initiative. The lack of support and buy-in of key stakeholders (employees, customers, partners) can lead to hurdles and disruptions, slowing down transformation.
Authority is necessary to make changes within an organization. However, change agents may feel they don't have the authority to influence members and groups in an organization.
Complex organizational structures
Large organizations with complex structures involve working with multiple levels of management and stakeholders to implement change. It's possible that change agents may find them difficult to navigate.
What tools and solutions can a change agent use to facilitate business transformation?
Aside from strategies and techniques, you must also give your change agent tools and solutions that help them do their job effectively and realize transformation changes faster.
Here are some tool and software recommendations to empower your change champion:
Team communication tools
Given the importance of communication and change management, providing a change agent with team communication apps like Slack or Microsoft teams is a no-brainer.
They can use them to keep your group in the loop regardless of their location, as well as share updates and set dedicated channels to hold and record discussions.
Change management process documentation tools
If your change initiatives involve reorganizing and optimizing your current business processes, consider getting powerful process documentation tools that allow your change agent to break down and share your approach, preferably at the touch of a button.
Use Scribe to create process templates and elaborate on critical elements like:
- Scope discussion.
- Team member instruction.
- Communication systems.
The change agent can use Scribe to record workflows, after which the tool will auto-generate visual step-by-step guides (also known as scribes), complete with screenshots and annotations, that can be easily shared with team members. A 'Pages' feature also comes in handy to combine multiple Scribes into one.
Suppose your change agent has been tasked with the job of shifting company communication on Slack. They can create multiple Scribes demonstrating how to go about the platform for team members, like this one:
Get started with a free Scribe account to simplify process documentation.
Digital change management tools
Your change agent can use multiple digital tools to tie the different elements of your organization’s change management process together, including:
- Timelines and Gantt charts to keep your change projects on track and monitor progress.
- Process maps and flowcharts to visualize and map out the change management strategy.
- Budgeting and forecasting tools to prevent disruptions and ensure steady progress.
We also recommend using tools like Asana and Trello to organize the tasks and training related to change management and keep everyone involved in the loop to avoid confusion.
Employee engagement tools
Employee engagement is crucial to a change initiative’s success. Consider giving your change champions employee engagement tools and programs like TINYpulse and Honestly to:
- Conduct one-on-one sessions and drive team performance.
- Measure employee engagement.
- Recognize and reward employees for positive change adoption.
Some of these tools also let users create employee surveys to collect feedback and insight, which can be handy for optimizing the change management process.
Accelerate organizational change with a change agent
Change is inevitable. To survive and thrive, you need to constantly optimize and adapt business processes and workflows to current trends.
Regardless of whether you opt for an internal or external change agent, this individual can guide and facilitate change initiatives, getting buy-in from stakeholders and employees and setting your business up for success.