Change Agents: Setting the Stage for Change
There is significant evidence supporting the need for a Change Agent or project lead in any organisational change or transformation project, whatever its size or intended goals.
Organisations which deploy any type of project management or change management methodology are better at meeting budgets, staying on schedule and meeting scope, quality standards and expected benefits, according to a study.
The cost of failure can also be exceedingly high, particularly when it comes to managing IT projects – a survey published in the HBR found that these types of projects typically overrun their budgets by 27% on average, and at least one in six turn into a ‘black swan’, running 70% over schedule with a 200% cost overrun.
Buy-in from staff and stakeholders is a core factor in the success of any transformation, whether it is a small-scale change, or an enterprise-wide endeavour. Generally speaking, without change agents working throughout a business, teams are less engaged, and projects take significantly longer to transition, and are often much less successful.
Indeed, a recent study looking at why projects fail, found that 78% of respondents felt that wider business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements, and business stakeholders are not involved or engaged enough in the process.
‘Change Agents’ are those within a transformation or change project with a responsibility for managing the organisational changes and the impacts on other individuals or teams. These could be anyone within a business, from managers, to team leaders, or supervisors, etc. Any manager leading change has the responsibility to use their influence to build team engagement and inspire buy-in to the project.
So, how do you build your influence, in order to inspire and lead your team?
Open, honest conversations build trust. Make sure you are empathetic, as well as really listening to teams and stakeholders.
- BUILD TRUST
Avoid falling into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering. Make sure to deliver what you promise, keep to schedules, and avoid gossip.
- BE TRANSPARENT
Change can be concerning when people don’t understand what is happening, or why. Lifting the veil on the wider plan and goals of a project can help avoid rumour mills spreading incorrect information or false assumptions.
THE CHANGE CURVE
The transition of internal change takes time and this is often underestimated.
Change doesn’t happen overnight: think about the last change you had to endure either at work or home e.g. changing from driving a manual car to an automatic, or getting to grips with a new expense logging system at work.
Change takes time, it’s a process of learning and adjusting.
Organisations don’t change simply with the introduction of a new system or a revamped process – change can only occur when the people in a business adapt, change and evolve as well. Thinking about change as a ‘change curve’ is a helpful way to frame the human reaction to change, and getting to grips with the stages will help Change Agents better understand the various reactions they may encounter. The ‘change curve’ model can take a variety of different forms. The following five steps outline the common stages of adapting to change:
STAGE ONE: Awareness – becoming aware of the disruption to the status quo.
STAGE TWO: Acceptance – the willingness to let go.
STAGE THREE: Adjustment – exploring what the change means to the individual. This can be a chaotic period, with the stopping old habits and learning anew.
STAGE FOUR: Compliance – begin to do what is expected, achieving the new process to hopefully achieve the targeted objective.
STAGE FIVE: Commitment – the ‘doing’ of the new processes until it becomes a habit, regardless of whether anyone else is paying attention.
Knowing the change curve exists, what should you keep in mind as a change agent?
- Change is different for everyone. Each person will approach the transition in their own personal way.
- Change is a process. A Change Agent must support individuals at every stage as they go through the change process.
- Change takes time. No one is exempt from the change process, and productivity typically drops when moving through the stages of change. Pay attention to where you are in the change process and give your team the time they need to work through each step.
If you want to speed up the change curve, complete the project in shorter time, and reduce the drop in productivity, then you need change management.
The objective of change management is to address the internal transition process and helping internal individuals deal with changes for themselves. The way people deal with change is unique and a Change Agent’s responsibility is to help them manage the process. Areas of conflict or misunderstanding should be approached with care, whether it is pushing back on something you don’t agree with or driving engagement across the team.
Asking questions and listening with care are two simple yet vital tools for any Change Agent. Questions and conversations can be useful whether upwardly managing stakeholders with conflicting expectations, or dealing with tricky or resistant team members. So, what should you be asking?
- Is there anything confusing about the change that I can help you better understand?
- What will this change take away from your work, and what will it add to your work?
- How do you see this change supporting our values and our strategy? (This can also indicate how clued into these an individual might be).
- On a scale of 1 – 10, how agreeable are you to this change? What needs to happen to increase that number?
Ensuring wider buy-in is not always the issue – some Change Agents will find themselves driving forward a transformation project that they perhaps do not wholly believe in. So, what should you do, when you find yourself handling a change that you do not agree with?
- Confirm your understanding – making sure you have the right end of the stick is always helpful!
- Share appropriately, without showing your frustrations or inner turmoil. People can react badly to perceived emotional responses, and you should always consider your audience before letting loose.
- Find a peer or leader to help make sense of the situation
- Reframe the change – if it’s going to happen anyway, look for the positives.
Make a decision – decide whether you will comply and be committed to the change.
Making peace with the change and working through the internal transition takes time. Making time for change is essential for a successful transition.