Meaningful operational change can begin from the ground-up, just as often as it does from the top-down. Here are some tips on how to become an effective change agent.
The old adage, “the only constant is change,” is more applicable to the speed and demands of business than ever. Increased competition, heightened expectation, globalization, and breaking through the noise to sign new customers and retain the ones you have has become increasingly difficult given the market’s volatility and uncertainty.
Companies large and small have continued to realize that the only way to survive—much less thrive—is by fostering an environment that empowers employees to successfully deliver on the demands of their roles and become more effective, and yes, satisfied in their careers.
The challenge here is that achieving these goals requires organizational change. And not only change that responds to current factors, but creating the flexibility to respond to forthcoming and inevitable changes to come.
This may include improved operational structure, departmental and leadership hierarchy, evolving systems and processes to meet new demands, and overall creating a leaner, more agile business that can pivot on a dime.
But who’s responsible for doing this?
The traditional role of the change agent
Traditionally, change comes from the top down. People in stronger leadership roles tend to have the influence and budget to make decisions that facilitate change.
The catch-22, however, is that the people who have the power to influence change may lack the visibility into the day-to-day operations that would most benefit. Likewise, the employees that do have such insight into processes and systems lack the voice to influence and execute such change.
For example, the CEO of a Fortune 500 may not be aware of the many inefficiencies in the human resources department that stall recruiting and prevent meaningful employee communication. But a member of the HR department who has the greatest visibility into these processes may not have the influence to deploy new technology that can meaningfully improve them.
When attempting to improve process and operations, many companies traffic in this kind of flawed change management, and unfortunately it falls short.
The evolved role of the change agent
Companies looking to achieve true transformation value the insight and input put from all employees—regardless of role or department—which enables those with the desire to lead that change to become effective agents.
Employees looking to take on this role have a three-fold opportunity.
- They can make their own jobs more efficient and be seen as a leader within their organization. This can create greater opportunity, greater responsibility, as well as an accelerated career trajectory.
- They can lead the charge toward department-wide improvement across people, processes and systems, which helps their department become the gold standard and a prime example of how departments can better operate and deliver on corporate goals.
- They can take the lead toward a leaner, agile and more digitized business prepared for the endless number of challenges they may face as they look to compete in an evolving marketplace.
The operational challenges facing the change agent
For the change agent, the infrastructural and operational challenges are significant.
Their company has likely invested in any number of systems—project management tools, sales and marketing systems, finance and accounting tracking, as well as software for supply chain, HR and other departments.
Disparate systems like these, as well as the disparate process that follow, create an experience where the tools at employees’ disposal fall short, creating poor experiences, errors and additional and unnecessary work.
Essentially, employees are stuck with systems that should conform to the way that work should be done, but unfortunately they don’t. Employees are stuck filling in the gaps between these processes which creates clunky, inefficient operations that don’t conform to the unique way the company does business.
Tips to be an effective change agent
Despite these challenges, employees looking to spearhead change management efforts and deliver more nimble and efficient operations as a change agent can find success. Here are some tips:
Frustrations and efficiencies are likely not confined to your department alone. Other teams are likely experiencing similar pain points that would benefit from a new approach. Work to develop relationships with leaders in other departments and find common threads that can translate to company-wide operations.
Develop a clear vision
The broader goals of a company may differ depending on who you talk to. The goals of the leadership team may differ from the goals of the sales team, which may in turn differ from the goals of your development or engineering teams. Identifying a clear objective for your change management efforts can help you better set the stage for how to achieve them. Find your ultimate end-point and tailor your strategy by working your way backward.
Work toward stakeholder buy-in
An effective change agent may have the birds-eye view of department and company operations, but may not have the decision-making power or budget to pull the trigger on adopting new technology. Build a case not just for efficiencies or better processes, but for KPIs that appeal to those who control budget, like time and money savings, and revenue and profit growth.