Being called a “change agent” is a popular and coveted title among many managers. But over the years, I have observed that many who hold that title have, in fact, not changed very much at all. Many of the true movers and shakers in today’s organizations operate behind the scenes and under the raider, getting minimal notice for the impact they actually have.
To begin with, I believe the correct terminology should actually be “Agents of Change” — plural — because the activity is rarely the purview of a lone ranger. Few of us are smart and talented enough to bring about meaningful organizational change all by ourselves. True agents of change are those who grasp the collective nature of the undertaking and are able to leverage broad-based talent in the pursuit.
True agents of change also have an intuitive feel for the process of activity that leads from the old to the new. They understand that organizations, like“open systems” in nature itself, will gradually evolve in new directions when enough changes in their environment demand they adapt to ward off stagnation and decline. Having started off on the right foot — as I outlined in the previous article — true agents of change generally follow a definable sequence of activity that provides the environmental stimuli necessary to initiate the process of adaptation and transformation.
Θ First, true agents of change reject tackling the “too big” and the “too complex” for the doable. They think small and manageable, aiming to build an aggregate of small changes into the momentum necessary to stimulate larger scale evolution. While one can not change an entire organization overnight, the accretion of enough smaller changes moving in a consistent direction, can gradually render the organizational status quo unsustainable.
Θ True agents of change always recruit like-minded colleagues and product or service customers to the cause. They deeply value the power of a well-rounded, collective brain and the need for a variety of talents and perspectives when it comes to exploring new ideas. The two qualities they value most in those they recruit are PASSION for the change in question and PERSISTENCE.
Θ Because true agents of change grasp the creative and innovative dimensions of meaningful transformation, they prefer to begin by opening themselves up to the broadest possible range of ideas, suggestions, and designs for the new. This is a difficult challenge for the Type A personalities among us, who find “creative brainstorming” taxing and time-consuming. Nevertheless, it is an essential step for identifying the truly creative approaches that can completely break the old molds. Tom Kelley’s two books: “The Art of Innovation” and “The Ten Faces of Innovation” provide a rich world of helpful hints designed to get these creative juices flowing.
Θ Once they have reasonably exhausted the range of possibilities, the true agents of change waste zero time wondering which is the best, correct, or right option to choose. They narrow the range of possibilities using their gut instincts and common sense and then PICK ONE to begin experimentation. They seek permission to act only when necessary; whenever possible they would prefer to ask for forgiveness, rather than seek a time-delaying OK.
Θ When it comes to the experimentation phase, true agents of change prefer a process formally referred to as rapid prototyping but which I like to call the “‘do, fix, do, fix, do, fix, do, fix” method. This approach represents a strong bias for action, an appreciation of the creative potential inherent in building upon successive layers of actual trials at something, and an understanding that nothing is ever perfect, and thus can continually be improved. Above all true agents of change grasp that eventually even the most creative new ideas will be overtaken by events and that their molds will require breaking as well.
Θ This overarching understanding of the finite nature of things, predisposes the true agents of change to settle for “as good as it is going to get for now ideas”, instead of seeking the time-consuming, ever illusive perfect solution. Especially if customers have been part of the development effort, they will be anxious to go live with something new, understanding that — safety issues aside — experience will contribute plenty additional “do, fix” suggestions and opportunities for the ongoing evolution of new ideas.
Θ Finally, true agents of change are restless and never content with the status quo. They recognize the ever-changing nature of the environment external to their organization — especially the needs of their customers, new technologies ripe for leveraging, and creative ideas from other venues with potential application to their own organizational needs — and are ever on the lookout for old models whose relevance has expired.