Human beings are incredibly adaptable; yet most will tell you the one thing they don’t like is change. In business, as in life, change is unavoidable. It is also essential for survival. Without change there would be no innovation. Without innovation, businesses stagnate and die.
The change agent has always existed among us. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, are described as iconic figures who have disrupted whole industries. But, not all change agents are entrepreneurs or senior managers. Change agents can be any individual who sees opportunity within their own workspace to improve customer service, streamline a manufacturing process, create, or extend, a new or existing product line.
The vision – To be a change agent requires having or sharing a vision. This means seeing things—new processes, new markets, new products—that may not even exist currently. Change agents should not be confused with project managers. Project Managers implement changes. Change agents have a compelling vision to change the organization and challenge the status quo.
A unique skill set – A change agent needs to combine the skills of a politician, pastor and policeman. They must be able to articulate their vision clearly and concisely, painting a picture that is easily understood. They must be inspiring and able to engage colleagues across the organization who may feel threatened by change. They must be persistent in the face of resistance without alienating those needed to help realize their vision.
Listening – An effective change agent must be a good listener. He or she must possess as much patience as enthusiasm. They must listen to objections, and offer well thought out answers and alternatives.
Compromise – While it may seem counterintuitive, a successful change agent must be willing to compromise. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he was adamantly opposed to opening the device to outside developers. But, ultimately, he was convinced to open the platform once his colleagues had shown him a process for reviewing and testing apps submitted by third party developers. If Jobs had been unwilling to listen and compromise, the iPhone might have been nothing more than a footnote.
Attitude – Finally, attitude is everything. People will not cooperate if they feel they can’t trust the person who is driving change. No matter how brilliant your vision may be, a person who feels their job is threatened will not be easily sold. Patience, an assured humility, empathy and a willingness to listen more than talk will allow coworkers the time needed to accept and even embrace change.
As others accept and come to share the change agent’s vision, they will assist in spreading the word. Momentum and enthusiasm will begin to replace reluctance and cynicism. When people begin to see the wisdom, the value, and benefits of proposed changes they become more willing to adapt and share their experience and expertise to help improve upon it.