Guest Post: 5 characteristics of effective change agents

A global economic crisis, U.S. Federal government sequestration, increasing healthcare costs, an ever-more interconnected world – we live in a challenging world where the pace of change gets faster every day. A change management program isn’t just a nice-to-have anymore. It’s mandatory to succeed.

Those who go beyond just adapting to change to become change agents set themselves apart in this kind of environment. Having worked with both public and private sector clients over the last twenty years, I’ve observed a few characteristics of successful change agents:

  1. Effective change agents have deep knowledge of their environment. This understanding of rules and guidelines helps change agents learn where they have flexibility in their decision-making and gives them the confidence to push boundaries.
  2. Effective change agents have a plan. Successful change agents systematically execute against an action plan. They consistently engage with stakeholders across the organization, follow through on their promises, and deliver what’s expected, when it’s expected. They aren’t afraid to adapt their plan to evolving circumstances if the impact to the workforce doesn’t play out exactly as expected (and when does it ever?).
  3. Effective change agents understand change is personal. Each person impacted by a change makes an individual decision to move forward with the change or to resist it. There is not a universal strategy – a single communication medium, one leader, one key activity – that will unilaterally move all affected staff forward through change. Successful change agents use different techniques to help different people move forward and always respect the individual in the process.
  4. Effective change agents use data. Whether it’s through formal surveys on communication effectiveness, measuring process improvement or reduction in cost, change agents use data to measure success. If the program has not achieved its goals within a reasonable time frame, they dig in to understand why and adapt plans accordingly.
  5. Effective change agents are not afraid of failure. In fact, they learn from their failures and move on. Rather than stick to the tried-and-true, effective change agents look for opportunities to engage the workforce in new ways, even when unproved. They are smart and prudent in how they do it, and they start small and persist even when things don’t go as planned.

We all have a role to play as change agents, whether it is helping a customer learn and accept a new process or leading a program for our organizations. What are you doing to help others around you be successful in a rapidly-changing world?

This post was written by Emily Craig, IBM Organizational Change Management Leader.


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