Most discussions about organisational change management or business transition will include talk of sponsors, change agents and change champions.
All are essential elements in successfully implementing and embedding change into the organisation regardless of its size or nature.
I have previously written about selecting sponsors and the skills they need.
In this post I would like to explore change champions, how to select them and the skills they require.
A common mistake when selecting change champions (or asking for volunteers) is to assume that they need to be senior. They can be from any level within the organisation and I would encourage you to select change champions from multiple levels. They do not need to come from the management level.
So what should we look for in our choice of change champions?
Trust and Respect
Select individuals who are trusted and respected by their peers and seen as a ‘go-to’ person. The relationship between change champions and the rest of the organisation is most effective when based on trust and respect rather than formal authority.
You could select your change champions by asking employees to nominate them. This gives employees a sense of ownership and holds them more accountable for actually making use of the change champions.
Change champions need to be well-connected outside of their own team and build strong relationships. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that change agents who were most successful were the ones who networked across disconnected groups and were close to individuals considered “fence-sitters.”
We should not think of dissent and resistance as a barrier to change but rather as an opportunity. You can read my article on why resistance to change can be a good thing here.
With the right support, engagement, encouragement the loudest dissenters can become your greatest advocates and champions for your change.
Don’t avoid selecting the sceptics as change champions. Employees who are keen to question plans and critique approaches to change can be major contributors to change success.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Change can be difficult for some people, and change champions need to be ready to listen to the concerns and anxieties of others.
They need to be able to explore the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) with individuals and express empathy with those struggling to embrace the change.
Ignoring resistance to change is a recipe for change failure!
Good change champions need to be able to surface the resistance to change and effectively manage it through employment of resistance management tactics and techniques.
Other characteristics of change champions include (but not limited to):
• Good communication and facilitation skills
• Good interpersonal skills
• Effective listening skills
• Enthusiasm and energy
• Patience and persistence
• Problem solving skills
But Don’t Forget
Change champions need support. They may need training, coaching and mentoring to become effective change champions. They should be given support through a network of change champions and provided with opportunities to share experiences and work across the network to resolve issues arising and celebrate success.