The Power of Change Agent Networks

Recently, I created a change management strategy for the global rollout of an expense management tool impacting over 5000 employees. The strategy had all the necessary components - strong executive sponsorship, designated change management resources, alignment with project management and robust engagement and communication plans. A key component to the execution of this strategy was the formation of a change agent network.

A change agent network is a select group of people from the business, commonly referred to as change champions, who work with the change management team to prepare an organization for a change. It is an effective tool that helps drive change adoption. Their effectiveness is rooted in the fact that they leverage an organization’s best asset – its people.

After Executive Sponsorship, I believe change networks are one of most important contributors to the success of a change management strategy. While active and visible executive sponsorship gives your change project credibility, change networks take that credibility to the next level by assisting in the execution of the change. Change champions are the change management team’s eyes and ears on the ground. They interact directly with other impacted stakeholders/end users and help them understand and ultimately adopt the change. They are able to do this because they are well known in the organization and can influence others. For this reason, picking the right change champions is critical. Ideal change champions are people who are:

  • Respected and trusted by their peers and leaders and have credibility within the business
  • Knowledgeable of the business and strategy
  • Aware of culture and sub-culture differences
  • Willing to commit the time to be a change champion
  • Supportive of and enthusiastic about the change

I always think of the change network as a communication channel that supports the change throughout the different organizational layers and helps bring the change management strategy to life. Typical change network activities include:

  • Provide consistent local messaging about the change
  • Identify issues / potential resistance on the ground and raise them quickly to the change and project teams
  • Provide input into the development of the tool, policy, etc., to ensure it reflects business policies and needs of the business
  • Review communication, training and other engagement plans to ensure they are appropriate to the impacted stakeholder groups
  • Support go-live activities by serving as a Super User / SME

For this recent change project, the change champions participated in a user acceptance testing session for the new tool, to ensure it worked as designed and that it met the needs of the business. They provided input into the engagement and communication strategies, and cascaded project updates to their teams and business areas with talking points provided by the change management team. The change network’s participation in these change activities provided the project team with valuable information on the functionality of the tool and helped the change management team understand the needs and concerns of the business. They were invaluable to the execution of the change management strategy and the overall success of the implementation.

Working with change agent networks is truly one of my favorite things to do in change management. In my experience, they generate more excitement about the change, and engagement with the organization is easier and faster when change networks are involved. They also allow the change team to network and build relationships across the organization which helps validate the change management capability. Below are some things I have learned about change networks over the years:

  • Ask leadership for nominations/recommendations
    • Leaders know the people in their organization best and they can identify who will be supportive of the change and can influence their peers.
  • Make it voluntary
    • Let change champions know the change network is a voluntary role and they can choose the change activities in which to participate. Remember, change champions have their day jobs to do and the change network activities would be done in addition to their regular role responsibilities.
  • Be clear about role of the network
    • Let them know from the start what the role does and does not entail.
  • Incorporate the change network role into performance management
    • This one is often overlooked. Build recognition into their performance plans. Change Champions often go above and beyond and they need to be recognized for this.

What is your experience with Change Agent Networks? Leave your comments below!

Authored by: Barbi Jo Orlando, ACMP NE Board Member

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  1. William Murphy

    Mar. 1, 2020

    Great blog, Barbi! I plan to share it on LindedIn and Twitter. Completely agree with your overview and suggestions. One thing I'm sure to do when outlining the commitment for change network candidates is to give a decent estimate of time (both per week, and overall duration), so they can weigh that when determining if they can play that role at that time. Hope all's well - miss out interactions via ACMP NE BOD. - Bill


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