Change Agents

Many, I would say most, organizations struggle with managing and implementing change. Change, though regarded as the only constant, is at best handled quite clumsily in most organizations and most companies grapple with it. Management experts mention ‘Leadership Commitment” as a critical driver of change and it is indeed so. But, many a times, even with strong leadership support change management programs falter. After all, leadership commitment, a sound plan and a great execution strategy is as good as the people who implement it – the Change Management team.

Many organizations focus a large part of their time and efforts on devising strategies and formulating plans for bringing about transformational change in the way it does business. But what is often overlooked or given less attention is the Change Management team. Very little effort is put in in identifying ‘change agents’ and thinking about how the implementation will be done. More often than not, change agents are not empowered in the right way. They are expected to bring change while functioning in the traditional prevalent hierarchy, which is a huge constraint. By quantifying the impact of change, leaders should focus on building a team which is freed from the day-to-day menial tasks and cuts across hierarchies to focus on implementation. The reporting structures need to be altered so that they are no longer reporting to line managers, but report directly to the program sponsor or the senior management. Building credibility for the team is as importance and this has to be completely driven by the organization’s leaders, else front-line people may view the change management team as ‘intruders’. Also, it is best to ensure heterogenity in the team, so as views of people from different functions are taken into account. This also leads to a better understanding of constraints and opportunities. Particularly, in large organizations (read geographical spread and headcount), it is more advisable to have decentralized team spread across locations. This leads to inclusion of a wider set of views being incorporated while developing plans & quick implementation of solutions. However, for a smaller organization, a centralized team would work well, given that its focus is sharper and is better-suited for standardization of processes.

While working with a Earth-Moving Equipment major recently, I saw great commitment among senior management to drive change and transform the way they handle their customers. While the management often came up with programs to manage customer expectations using sophisticated tools like TQM, Six Sigma etc., they have not seen any meaningful change. What they have ended up with is a large pool of Six Sigma experts who just crunch numbers, while the customers are complaining about delivery schedules and non-availability of spares. After our first round of measurements, we proposed an action-planning session, involving a team of change agents. In-depth root-cause analysis and brainstorming was done and each of the ‘change agents’ presented their plan for the outcomes they wanted to impact. While the senior managers took responsibility of the process-related far-reaching changes, young managers took up the responsibility of bringing about hygiene-level changes. As always, I was worried about the entire initiative losing steam mid-way and a half-hearted implementation. The management as well looked in no position to free the change agents from their usual grind and focus exclusively on driving change. A work-around to this is to build accountability. We summarized all action plans in a document and circulated within the team. From the documents, it appeared that all the change programs should have been implemented in the next 6 months (that’s what individuals had mentioned for their action plans). Realizing that 6 months is enough time for the initiative to lose pace, we proposed monthly calls with all members of the change management tea to take stock of the progress and course-correct, if necessary. Using group dynamics might work for this organization in creating accountability.

It is surely not easy to run a change management program, but most leaders do recognize its importance. Leaders can avoid the feeling of being left high and dry by expensive consultants by focusing more on creating the right team to implement. The ‘recommendations’ in the power-point may be very pretty, but you always need the right people to make your organization look pretty!

3 thoughts on “Change Agents

  1. You shed light on an overlooked part of change management — the makeup and support of the planning team. The late Kathie Dannemiller and Robert (Jake) Jacobs always took great care in forming the planning team for their large system change events. And I imagine Jake still does that. I recall that they would create teams that cut across levels and interests in the organization. And they made sure that the teams included one or two gadflies — people who would tell it like it is. These people brought a reality check to the teams.

    Rick Maurer


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