Choosing Change Agents: It’s Not All About Position

One of the keys to success in an organization transformation is having the right people involved. Before any of the work can be done around planning and implementing change, it’s important to gain clarity on the roles involved and who will fill them.

A common assumption in organizations when choosing change agents is that because a person holds a position of authority or influence in the organization, they will automatically be the right person to take on a change leadership or change agent role. This is a natural thing to believe, because being in a position of leadership does give a person a certain amount of leverage or influence that can be advantageous in leading change transformations. And sometimes, it does indeed make sense for these people to take on the change agent role.

On the other hand, to be a good change agent requires specific competencies. Just because someone is in a leadership position, or just because they happen to have the time to take on extra work, does not mean they will make a good change agent—even if they are good leaders.

What to look for when choosing change agents

Part of being a change agent is having influence with people and across different parts of an organization. That influence might come from the role in the hierarchy that someone holds. But change agents can come from many different positions within the organization, or even outside of it. More important than position when choosing change agents is to choose people who have the innate ability to understand change and to act in ways that facilitate it.

So, how do you choose a good change agent when working on an organization transformation? What characteristics should you look for in potential agents of change?

Some of the things we encourage our clients to look for include:

  • Respected individuals. Perhaps it’s their technical expertise, or their communication style, or their past successes. Regardless, good change agents are typically people who have earned the respect of others in the organization.
  • Good teachers and communicators. A great change agent is also somebody who is able to connect the change with how work needs to be done. They have a knack for reaching people who may not fully appreciate what’s being asked of them and making it simple for them to understand what to do, why it makes sense to do it, and exactly how to implement it into the daily routines that need to be done.
  • Networkers and connectors. Sometimes the people who are running a large transformation won’t know who all the key people are. Whether it’s through positional power or just through their connections, the change agent should be able to point people in the transformation to others in the organization who can assist in influencing and implementing change.
  • Resilient in the face of change. One of the most under-appreciated aspects of change leadership is that those who are called to direct change are sometimes required to undergo big changes themselves. Change leaders must have the ability themselves to navigate times of change without it disrupting their ability to lead change in the organization and on behalf of others going through change.

Maintaining perspective

A change leader’s influence entails more than just positional power. Those who are leading organization transformations do need to take into account the importance of positional power when choosing change agents to assist with an organization transformation. However, it’s just as important to consider the intangible things people in any position can bring to the table during times of change. Sometimes, it’s these intangible characteristics more so than hierarchical positioning that makes for an effective change agent.