The Role of a Change Agent: Characteristics, Types, Skills (2023)
Technology advancements, evolving customer needs, and new competition all influence business dynamics across industries. With change being constant, having a change management strategy is imperative.
However, when employees embark on the change journey, they need external motivation, support, assistance to overcome their barriers to change and drive the overall change successfully. This external assistance can come from change leadership inside an organization, third-party consultants, or change agents.
We’ll explore more on change agents, why organizations look to change agents to research and execute business process improvements, and how they help employees adjust to new ways.
Who Is a Change Agent?
A change agent, also known as an advocate of change, is a person who acts as a catalyst for the change management process. They help an organization, or part of an organization, transform how it operates by inspiring and influencing others. A change agent will promote, champion, enable, and support an organization’s change implementation.
Responsibilities of Change Agents
Key activities that a change agent performs include:
- Communicating how change is beneficial for both the organization and employees
- Listening to the involved team members and employees to gain feedback and incorporate it in the implementation process
- Understanding employees’ reactions to change and reducing resistance to change
- Actively engaging with employees by conducting change management exercises.
- Encouraging and supporting employees to become change champions and promote it
- Identifying and leading other change agents and change consultants to success
- Providing feedback on challenges facing the change management lead
Internal vs. External Change Agents
Organizations can appoint change agents both from within or outside the organization.
An internal change agent is usually a team member such as a manager, senior executive, leader, HR professional, or another team member who understands organization development, behavioral sciences, and human intervention.
An external change agent is an outside consultant or third-party change practitioner with relevant expertise to drive change initiatives. Company rules, regulations, and policies do not apply to them, allowing them to deeply analyze varied scenarios and suggest suitable change management models and strategies that help prevent change failures.
A noteworthy aspect here is that internal change agents are aware of the organization’s history of change initiatives and social politics, and will work diligently to establish strong relationships to strengthen attitudes and cultural views towards change – even after the implementation process is complete. However, if an organization lacks an internal employee with change management skills, organizations must opt for external change agents to support their initiative.
Though external change agents provide a fresh perspective, their presence can threaten the existing employees, and their appointment can add a costly expense for lengthy change implementations.
Types of Change Agents
Every change initiative has unique requirements for which specific change agents are needed to provide support. Here are three types of change agents to support your organizational change:
1. People-Focused Change Agents
People-focused change agents help individual employees cope with change by boosting employee morale and motivation. They look into the matters of absenteeism, turnover, and the quality of work performed via behavior modification, job enrichment, and goal setting.
2. Organizational & Operational Structure Change Agents
These change agents focus on changing the organizational structure to improve effectiveness and efficiency. Organizational structure change agents use various analytical approaches such as operations research, systems analysis, and policy studies to change the organization’s structure or technology.
3. Internal Process Change Agents
The prime focus of these change agents is internal processes such as intergroup relations, communication, and decision making. Internal process change agents opt for a cultural change approach to etch the change permanently by conducting sensitivity training, team building, and employee surveys.
Roles of Change Agents in an Organization
A change agent assumes one or more roles based on the needs and requirement of a change project. The four distinct roles of change agents are:
This change agent role behaves as a change consultant to ensure a bidirectional flow of data, and then conducts further analysis of the data to provide actionable insights to the team members.
2. Communicator & Advocator
While implementing change, organizations often focus too much on logistics and not on change communication.
Gartner suggests that due to poor change communication, 73% of employees experience moderate to high levels of stress, and the affected employees perform 5% less than an average employee.
Therefore, change must be understood and supported by the team members for it to be successful – without effective change management communication, the change is destined to fail.
In addition to being a consultant, a change manager often takes on the role of a trainer to help team members act on the insights gained from data analysis and help them acquire new skills to prepare them for the new digital or technical change.
Organizations also leverage third-party expertise or change management tools such as Whatfix’s digital adoption platform to provide employee training and onboarding for a new process or application. Whatfix fosters a self-help culture and provides a personalized training & onboarding experience via features such as in-app interactive walkthroughs and customizable pop-ups, providing contextual training and on-demand support – all in the flow of work.
As a researcher, a change agent focuses on solving current problems and anticipating future concerns. He also conducts competitive analysis and evaluates the effectiveness of an organization’s implementation plan and overall change management strategy.
Agents of Change Examples
Examples of change agents can be seen across all types of organizations, teams, and industries, as well as in the different roles of change agents. The principal change agent will depend on an organization’s change life cycle.
For example, John King, chairman of British Airways, made difficult decisions such as downsizing, organizational restructuring, and elimination of unprofitable routes – allowing the airline to upgrade its fleet of jets and cut costs. This allowed British Airways to transform the airline from a position of state-owned weakness to a globally renowned pioneer of privatized carriers.
A few different agents of change examples include:
- A consultant or internal researcher tasked with identifying what changes are needed in an organization
- A leader of a cross-functional stretch team tasked with creating an innovative solution to a complex problem that continues to trouble a company
- A learning and development professional tasked with training and supporting team members during a change
- A manager or director tasked with implementing a new software system or digital transformation process
What Are Characteristics of Successful Change Agents?
The role of a change agent has become critical now more than ever as the failure initiatives can result in damaging losses and set back the company’s performance by years. For example, Nike’s failed ERP implementation cost the company a total loss of $500 million from both lost sales and project budget costs, as well as several lawsuits resulting from unfulfilled orders.
Key qualities of a change agent, as well as their relationship with the key decision-makers, ultimately decide the fate of any change initiative. To become a truly effective change agent, look to develop the following characteristics and qualities:
- Understands the Vision
- Broad & Acute Knowledge
- Patient, Yet Persistent
- Builds Strong Interpersonal Relationships
- Leads by Example
- Well Respected
- Strong Communicator
- Good Negotiator
Techniques Used By Change Agents
A good change leader will leverage various change management strategies and their combinations to support organizational change. Here are a few of the commonly used techniques by change agents:
1. Change Management Exercises
A change agent must conduct activities and exercises that encourage employees to understand and embrace change. Change management exercises provide an opportunity to communicate about the change, gauge the underlying objectives, and understand the organizational benefits of getting on board early on.
Read our blog on change management exercises to discover how you can help your employees embrace change.
WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) is a crucial technique for change agents. Change agents must appeal to employees by addressing individual concerns. Customize communication basis employees’ or team’s level of involvement in the change and its impact on them.
For example, imagine you’re switching payroll processing from biweekly to monthly. It will affect everyone within the organization but will impact accounting more than other departments. You’ll need to communicate with each department differently and provide acute details on the change to the payroll team.
3. Stakeholder Analysis
Stakeholder analysis is a project management technique used to analyze and categorize different stakeholders affected by the change initiative. This analysis provides insights into how change agents can address the stakeholders’ interests, keeps them on board with the transformation, and helps avoid disruption. The change agent should create a matrix of all stakeholders and assess and record their expected attitudes to the transformation.
4. Persuasive Technique
A change agent must construct a compelling argument to influence and convince people on the need and benefits of the change initiative, as well as the associated implementation plan required to deliver it. The specific strategies used by the change agent will vary according to the activities and the stakeholders.
The MoSCoW method is a prioritization technique that change agents use to gain a shared understanding of the importance of different deliverables. MoSCoW stands for:
- Must have
- Should have
- Could have
- Won’t have
The change owner should use the output from MoSCoW analysis to tailor their influencing strategy according to the ‘must haves’.
Whether large or small, every organizational change requires one or more change agents. A change agent, external or internal, has the skill set to guide and facilitate the change effort and set your organization up for success.
Schedule a personalized demo with our experts to know how Whatfix can be your partner in change.