Companies throughout the world look to change agents to improve sales, boost team morale, or develop new technology. According to an article titled “Managing Change: The Role of a Change Agent,” the characteristics of successful change agents include empathy, energetic pursuit of goals, and openness. An agent can be an outside consultant with a reputation for long-term impact or a staff member with the creativity to develop new ideas. Most importantly, change agents are aligned with the cultures and visions of their clients.
Working as a change agent in Canada and beyond can also be a lucrative pursuit. Payscale.com cites an average salary of C$61,551 for change agents in Canada with salaries ranging from C$59,000 to C$79,000. Aston University’s online MBA in Canada program teaches lessons in entrepreneurship, organizational development, and global business that help graduates affect change in the workplace. To guide your pursuit of this career, it is helpful to understand the seven key aspects of an effective change agent.
The learned change agent
A change agent can’t be successful by repeating the work done for their clients in the past. A company selects a change agent to draw on a new knowledge base. To succeed in this career, you need to expand your horizons beyond your business specialization. For example, a 2010 article titled “Physicians with MBA degrees: change agents for healthcare improvement” highlighted the management improvements made by MDs who also earned MBAs. Fortune noted a trend of MBAs working as teachers with education reform programs like Teach for America before returning to the business world.
These experiences are invaluable in bringing change to any project or company. You can also examine practices in other industries and countries to find ideas that fit into your client’s overall goals. Finally, listening to speakers of all backgrounds talking about innovation creates a mental inventory to draw from with your next client.
Change the frame
You don’t necessarily have to work in a different setting or examine other industries to create change. A team or department may be falling behind and failing to innovate because they are examining the same details hundreds of times. The lack of an inspirational spark can be frustrating but also lead to a narrow focus on details that may not be critical. Your role as a change agent could involve creating a new framework for viewing existing ideas instead of finding the next big idea.
Jeanne Liedtka, a business professor at the University of Virginia, wrote an article in 2018 highlighting the positive impacts of design thinking. This framework asks participants to understand how end users interact with products and services during the design process. For example, a mobile phone developer would reach out to customers to test a new phone to avoid errors in size, screen responsiveness, and other features. Liedtka advocates for change agents to test new ideas outside of the office and use this feedback to create a new developmental framework. A design-thinking approach can reduce obstacles to fully realizing the potential of new ideas.
Business professionals in all fields experience blocks to creativity due to comfort and inertia. An accounting department may not look for process improvements because existing processes work without incident. The creative department at a retailer may stick to the same color palettes and slogans because they aren’t pushed by executives. A successful change agent breaks through the status quo and encourages creativity from their clients.
Forbes detailed workplace trends for 2018 that could be useful for a change agent’s work. Change agents can encourage innovation by getting team members away from mobile phones and computers by encouraging in-person communications. Forbes highlighted the use of retraining and upskilling programs that could shake employees out of their career doldrums. The presence of senior, mid-level, and entry-level employees also offers generational perspectives that can be useful rather than detrimental. Students at Aston University's Online MBA program learn about organizational strategy development, which can incorporate all of these workplace trends.
We’ve already discussed the idea of design thinking in bringing outside feedback to any innovation project. It is important to get internal stakeholders in your work on board with common goals early in the process. If you ignore the team you are working with, you are pushing aside years of experience and skills necessary to achieve change. Assuming that you know all of the solutions without employee feedback also alienates your best resources.
The keys to team investment in change are seeking input and defining limitations. You can hold one-on-one and small team meetings to determine staff competencies for the proposed work. You can use personality assessments like the Kolbe test to partner complementary skill sets or find undiscovered areas of strength. It is also critical to place conversations and tests into the contexts of budgets and company scope to provide the boundaries for innovation.
Build results into change
Your clients won’t want to wait for results even if you have a six-month, one-year, or five-year plan. When the term change is involved, business executives and entrepreneurs don’t want to hear the word wait. A good tool when pursuing a change in the corporate world is a set of SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound targets set prior to the start of a project. You can develop SMART goals with your clients to set attainable targets that have defined checkpoints for your work. This process not only ensures trendlines for change but engages all of the stakeholders in your work.
Eyes on the prize
Design thinking, creativity exercises, and personality tests can feel far afield from your desired innovations. The process of change doesn’t take place overnight and requires a lot of trial and error before success is in view. Change agents always to keep final goals in mind to avoid employee disconnection from their work. You can provide weekly updates on SMART goal successes or include long-term goals in every meeting agenda. In short, a change agent must use all of these tools as a means to an end rather than the end.
Challenge yourself to change
It may sound redundant, but a change agent should not be afraid to change as they advance in their career. After each project, you should write down successes and failures in your work as a guide to future work. You also need a network of fellow professionals to understand trends in the field. When possible, a change agent should also seek projects in new fields to test their skills. Aston University’s online MBA program encourages early-career professionals to network with other professionals and pursue new paths.