From revolution to evolution - Advises for the Change Agent
Updated: Jun 25
Board of Innovation, one of the most experienced european agency, has provided some definitions for many roles you find in corporate innovation:
In their definition for Change Agent, they mentioned about 4 key activities
the focus on employees and their engagement
the transformation strategy design and implementation
the importance for stakeholders to see the value of the change
the coaching and support of stakeholders in return of their commitment
At the time of a reorganization, I realized after few months that I got wrong all 4 principles of the Change Agent, while being self motivated, engaged and supported by talented colleagues. From my learning, here is what I would advise, for you to make it right.
Advise 1 - the focus on employees and their engagement
You may think your vision is clear and every employee is engaged on it... You presented it many times, you have a nice moto.. but nothing happens.. Why ?
Often there hasn't been enough work on it. You may believe that the 2 days offsite with your reporting line of managgers was sufficient but it is not. Very soon every managers will be biased, make self interpretation and shift according to their own KPIs .. Knowing that everyone will focus on delivering on their goals.. you will notice after few months some misalignements within the organisation.
Actually, it is a continuous, iterative effort. Instead of pushing or selling a vision to your employees, it is easier to revert the approach in a pull mode by inspiring and engaging them while making it a joint purpose. A good way to make it happen it to invest in team building to share a joint culture and values. Not everyone but almost 20% of employees will be highly supportive and this would suffice to engage the whole organisation.
Motivation: the employee’s internal drive to succeed and do great work
Engagement: the employee’s voluntary commitment to the organization’s success
Then you have 2 particular profiles that you need to keep in mind in a context of change
The Lone Wolf, very motivated to achieve success but not engaged in the goals of the organization
The Cheerleader, deeply engaged in the organization but not motivated at all
So first thing first, organize a team building, identify those Cheer Leaders, they will contribute to increase overall engagement. Work with Lone Wolves to build an attractive workplace that reward performance. By making employees working on culture and values that are important to them you will fuel senior management with information... allowing them to shape a purpose and a vision.
We often make the mistake between motivation and engagement whereas they are two different concepts. I really like the definition from Joell Tramell blog's :
Advise 2 - the transformation strategy design and implementation
Often a reorganization is a top down approach and the managers are in charge of engaging their teams while they haven't been part in the strategy framing. Again, you need a consensus of the department heads as a starting point.
Explaining the strategy, creating many documents breaking down its logic is of no use. No one will pay attention to some simplified high level overviews or infographics. Here you need time... you need the team managers to conduct their own analysis of the strategy plan and re-assemble the pieces all together. Unfortunately they often need to do it in parallel to launching their activities and in addition to their current deliverables.
Organization leader should not rush here... Instead they can give department heads time to think and align together on what the transformation strategy is. There is nothing wrong to start working while building the consensus over a few months.
The good thing is that it is never too late to define your strategic intent. Here I can only recommend the excellent Gary Pisano:
Advise 3 - the importance for stakeholders to see the value of the change
Change and reorganization occurs all the time in large corporation. In average, every second year, there is a shift. An organization lifespan can last sometime up to 6 years. You launch a new department, two year later (+2) you adjust, two year later (+4) you have a major consolidation and finally, two years later (+6) you have a new CEO/CXO who decides to close the department and relaunch it with a new name/focus. By the way, you can observe career driven employees, the "Lone Wolves" who usually stay 18months to jump to a new role, just before next reorg. shift happens.
Because of those shifts, you don't have so much time to demonstrate the value of change to your stakeholders. And the more employees are driving it, the better convincing you will be. Therefore, we recommend to conduct a precise employee survey combining criteria scoring and collecting insights. This survey would help you to measure the level of employees's motivation and some areas of focus for improvements. A clear win is that employees will have the feeling to be listened to, while they can also provide input to the overall mission of your innovation lab.
Conducting a survey is a good approach that also limits the risk of involving employees in too many initiatives and deviates them from their core focus. You want to avoid creating wrong expectations for employees, where at the end, their contribution is limited. At least, here, you balance contributions from top-down and bottom-up to propose ideas and solutions.
This integration of employees insight and finding solutions should come from the management team. The Change Agent is only facilitating the process. The mistake would be to coordinate and drive the implementation alone... by doing so, you would wrongly interfere between teams heads and their employee. I recommend to avoid it. Don't be a challenger, don't impose an agenda to managers. Do the opposite, become their support and resource.
The value, I believe is in employee engagement while delivering on their goals. Therefore I have here some interesting readings to reflect on
Advise 4 - the coaching and support of stakeholders in return of their commitment
If you approach the management team too early before showing the value of change and identifying their needs, you lose their commitment. If they are not in demand, you end up pushing an offering that has no meanings yet for them. Somehow this bargain of power and influence creates a double frustration :
For managers who see misused resource in a context of a organisational pressure
For the Change Agent who experiences resistance and dedicates political effort
The starting point is the 20% of employees motivated to make our organization evolve. Instead of rushing things for them, sell the idea to managers that you are going to provide them with insights to help driving their strategy. Don't draw conclusion from insight yourself, just consolidate, so they can start working on it. Have one or two workshops to present raw results and make them interpret, take notes, report the discussion, decision and implement as what managers were proposing:
Try to align on intermediate touch points with employees
Confirm that you are on the right track
Ask to be challenged by your management team... not the contrary...
This reminds me a recent article on supporting others at work https://hbr.org/2020/02/how-to-overcome-your-obsession-with-helping-others
The consequence and next steps
A - When reorganization has achieved its main goal, employees are all committed to their new role and their engagement is increasing.
B - As a second consequence, the Change Agent can broader his expertise. This is a key skill of the Corporate Innovation Strategist.
C - The third consequence is that you can extend the Change Agent activities as a service to the management team. You become a resource to help them in the future to improve team engagement.
D - The last consequence is about your own engagement. Things usually don't work as planned. You can feel illegitimate and have underestimated the importance to build your credibility among your peers, even when supported by top management. You need to be humble, put your ego aside, accept feedback and seek for improvement.
See it as an opportunity to progress. Change is at the heart of innovation and you will be more prepared than ever to help evolve your organisation. You have the motivation .. and need now a good cause to foster your engagement.