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How to Become a Change Agent at Work

Developing a Process to Effectuate Change in the Workplace

A change agent is someone who alters organizational systems to achieve a higher goal. The goal may be to increase output, alter the corporate culture, or make other changes that improve organizational efficiency.

A successful change requires thoughtful deliberation and preplanning whether the perception of the need for a change arose from a strategic planning event, a response to external events, the insertion of new technology, or other external challenges.

Elaine Biech identifies a Six-Step Change Model including:

  • Challenge the current state
  • Harmonize and align leadership
  • Activate commitment
  • Nurture a formalize a design
  • Guide implementation
  • Evaluate and institutionalize change

Each step establishes a blueprint for change starting with a call to action: collect and analyze data; determine organizational readiness; establish change management roles; and build the business case for change.

A successful change management effort requires planning for and integrating both the people affected by the change and the process selected to implement change. Major change cannot occur unless leadership speaks with one voice and a unified purpose. Sending mixed messages is likely to confuse those charged with carrying out the change and can have a counter-productive effect.

The change effort should be aligned with the organization’s strategic plan that guides the direction of change. The leaders should focus on results, not activities: What is the organization trying to accomplish with the initiative?

A successful change agent is a visionary who inspires others, creates enthusiasm, and empowers employees to carry out the process identified to effectuate change. As Biech points out, one important consideration for the change agent, and one often overlooked, is to consider one’s ethical responsibility to the organization and workforce. This should be in lock step with the principles of ethical conduct embedded in the code of ethics and should include:

  • Honor promises of confidentiality and ensure confidentiality limits are understood by all
  • Conduct change efforts and other activities honestly and responsibly
  • Introduce new perspectives for consideration
  • Listen to opposing views
  • Encourage and enable participation.

Individuals who serve as a catalyst for change embody some similar characteristics: they create a clear vision of what change should look like; they are patient with those charged with carrying out change; they are responsive to questions raised about the change process; they lead by example; and they develop strong relationships built on trust.

Steve Jobs was a visionary for change at Apple. His actions influenced the technology industry and helped ready the economy for the information age. He single-handedly guided Apple through change in the way business operates and innovates; the way consumers interact with one another through work, school or at play; and how the face of technology will look from here and ever after.

Of course, Jobs had his failings in dealing with others both within and outside the company. That’s because he didn’t communicate effectively with those charged to carry out the change. He wasn’t a “charismatic leader.” Still, he did what no one could during the rapid growth in technology and social media influences on business.

At the end of the day, changing the culture of an organization is a long and arduous process. In most organizations inertia grows over time and people become comfortable with the status quo. A change agent needs to step in and convince others that change will positively influence organizational systems and lead to enhanced benefits for those who effectuate the change.

Glenn Llopis, a former C-suite corporate executive turned consultant and writer, describes management as no longer being a term that denotes only operational improvements, cost efficiencies and process reengineering. Change management has become a much bigger, more interwoven part of the overall business fabric – an embedded leadership requirement that plays into everything that we do, every day, and how we go about getting things done, regardless of hierarchy or rank. In the end, every leader must be a change agent. 

Without strategy, change is merely substitution not evolution. If you don’t know where you want your business to go, how you want your employees and customers to grow, and what your plan is to get there – your intentions don’t really matter. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to define their strategy for change, as this represents the basis for ultimate accountability and action. If leaders don’t feel comfortable with renewal and reinvention, they will begin to lose their impact and influence quickly.                                                                                                                                                                                    

Change is the new normal for leadership success and all leaders must accept this fact. Quoting the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: "The Only Thing That is Constant is Change."

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 15, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at www.ethicssage.com.

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