I recently completed a project that had me thinking about the importance of change champions in the success of change initiatives. Change management is a multifaceted process that depends on many factors from systems to individuals. Each initiative is different, but a key component common to all change initiatives is getting buy-in from the people being affected by it. A critical piece to getting buy-in is to build a crew of change champions.
Imagine that your company has just announced a new system implementation. The C-Suite is on board and ready to go. This implementation will be cost effective, save time and will have an untold number of other benefits. The vision has been cast, top leadership is on board and a change management plan has been finalized. Memos have been sent, the system has been ordered and the launch date has been determined. You may think you are ready to go, but you are just getting started.
While leadership is driving this initiative, the people really being affected by this change are far removed from the executive office. There will often be a level of disconnect between the front-line employees (those using the system day in and day out) and the management spearheading the initiative. Often the front-line employees may not understand the reasoning and vision behind the proposed change. If you have ever played the game “telephone” you can understand the breakdown in messaging over layers of communication. You can unravel these layers by building a group of change champions, which is an important part of bridging that gap.
What is a change champion? These are your advocates, the boots on the ground that take a supportive approach to promote your change initiative. These are the people who are representatives of the groups that are effectively “changing.” They might be leaders, managers, or even frontline workers. They are well respected by the community of users (those who will be most affected by the change) and they are key to a successful change initiative.
It is important to know that change champions may be resistant to change initially. You must do the work of getting them through their own resistance by offering compelling data to show how this change will benefit their team. Once they are convinced, they can advocate to others. The magic of change champions is their positive influence on their teams. They can “sell” the change initiative and address any issues or concerns through the lens of the user, effectively getting everyone on board. The key to this particular group is that they’re influential and can get their team to buy-in.
The success of the project I recently concluded owes its success to a complex network of change champions. We built out a team of change influencers for a retailer, that traveled from store to store helping with the start up of the system being implemented. It was a huge task. The team had to undergo heavy training, and a grueling travel schedule. They were away from their families and away from the stores they managed. It was a ton of extra work for the change champions and added responsibility to their day jobs. For their additional work and efforts, we offered rewards and reinforcement mechanisms that resonated with them.
For this project we focused on high potential managers who were keen to move up in the organization. They were store managers who wanted to become district managers, or assistant store managers who wanted to become store managers. They were well respected, strong communicators, organized, and solid leaders. They were able to ask pertinent questions and bring a unique perspective to the conversations.
We worked with them through their hesitations until they understood the necessity and the benefits that would be realized by their teams. In turn, they explained this to the users in a way they could comprehend and accept. They were able to bridge the disconnect from leadership to the store floor. They understood the resistance from their colleagues and explained the reasoning behind the change as well as the vision and benefits. It was a peer-to-peer conversation from a trusted person who understood both sides of the situation.
You can’t lead change well without champions. So how do you determine your change champions? A few key questions should be asked:
~What should their profile look like?
~What qualities should you look for?
~What will they need to do?
~What will you ask them to do?
~How do you encourage them?
Establish what role this person should be in – manager, team leader, co-worker? Determine what behavioral style is necessary to influence this group of stakeholders. Then you need a plan to initiate and engage your prospective champions. Ask the right questions and have convincing information available to address any hesitations.
Sound daunting? Positive Delta can help! This is one of the many services we offer. Reach out and we can help you identify and deploy your change champions and help you gain buy-in for your change initiative.
This article was originally published by Adrienne Guerrero on LinkedIn.