Sponsors who aren’t adequately prepared for their role need our help. Even sponsors who have plenty of change experience and all the right “instincts” for orchestrating difficult transitions need help. They should be supported and guided by skilled change practitioners. So, what are the requirements for playing the change agent role, and how can we get better at it?

I’m going to focus on practitioners assigned to senior sponsors. Don’t get me wrong, change agents at all levels play important roles. It’s just that those who serve leaders in key positions (initiating and primary sustaining sponsors) are particularly important to the change success. They have to be able to do three things:

  • Offer leaders advice regarding how to best leverage the implementation process as well as how to perform their sponsor duties
  • Operate as trusted advisors
  • If the organization is large enough and their projects warrant it, they may also need to attract, train, lead, and manage a community of change agents to function in similar ways for sponsors throughout the organization

Regardless of where they are located, the agent’s primary allegiance is to the initiating sponsor of the projects on which they are deployed. They must learn to be as creative and as flexible as possible when dealing with resistance and various other challenges, while remaining uncompromising about staying within the boundaries of what the initiating sponsor has decided will take place.

My next three posts will focus on additional aspects to the change practitioner’s role:

  • Specifics about what the agent does to help the sponsor
  • The unique challenges inherent to serving as agents to sponsors of change
  • A selection criteria for designating who should serve in the change agent role

For now, here are some key criteria for agents who are in service to sponsors:

The successful change agent:

  • Works within the constraints set by the sponsor
  • Understands the psychological processes that describe how individuals and organizations modify their operations and how these processes can be applied to develop and execute plans for major change efforts
  • Optimizes performance by placing importance on both the human and the technical aspects of the change project
  • Identifies, relates to, and respects the diverse perspectives of sponsors and targets
  • Generates diagnostic data regarding the organization’s resistance to change, and converts this information into coherent, usable, step-by-step approaches
  • Develops and sustains highly productive working relationships with and between sponsors and targets
  • Selects and utilizes alternative approaches to interpersonal communication to announce the change effectively and to respond to questions
  • Continually assesses the level of dedication from both sponsors and targets and is prepared to take the necessary action to bolster faltering support
  • Deals skillfully with opposition to change
  • Utilizes techniques when interacting with others that reflect a capacity to achieve results, a concern for ethical boundaries of behavior, and a sensitivity for human dignity
  • Subordinates (when necessary) personal agendas, desires, and tendencies to the goals of the change

Which of these is most problematic for you? Are there others you would add to the list?

Next: Ways Change Agents Can Help Sponsors