In the context of organisational change, identifying and organising the various roles of change agents remains a challenge for practitioners and scholars alike. Our recent research findings underline the importance of designing a coherent system of agents, determining their role during the process, and how this may need to change as projects evolve. To understand better the role that change agents currently play in your organisation, why not ask them the following questions?

1. What do you think your role is?

Much of the difficulty in understanding how to utilise change agents effectively lies in the many different interpretations that the role could play in managing change. The complexity of this role is often underestimated. This results from a lack of understanding of how organisations and individuals in the role make sense of their responsibilities and positions in the change process, especially when these positions are temporary or as a side-project to their main job load.

Some change agents may see their role being to promote innovation to others and motivate others to adopt new technology or practices, others to offer their expertise in local decision making and become an influencer at a local level, still others may see themselves as bringing together disparate groups and facilitating cooperation across organisational boundaries. Whilst all of these are valuable, the activities and measures of success for these roles are different and if you are not on the same page, there may be disputes over their perceived effectiveness.

2. Who are you working with?

Understanding the relationships that change agents have with others in their organisation can help you to define their role and maximize their impact. Our research found that if a change agent has more vertical relationships, they may be a useful influencer within the organisation. They will likely be successful at making recommendations about what will work and what resistance change will face. A change agent who has more lateral relationships may be most effective at encouraging cooperation from different groups, and to communicate across boundaries. This is helpful in the implementation stages of change management to bring together disparate groups to solve problems.

3. Where do you want to go next?

Our ongoing research examines the career paths of change agents, to understand how a secondment or project-defined role can enhance, redirect, or stall an individual’s career progression. Our early findings suggest that for some change agents, the role represents a shift from an area of technical expertise (e.g. clinical practice) to a career in project or change management – they seek out opportunities to become a ‘career project manager’. This requires a shift in their personal identity and may require coaching and support. Others choose to return to their former role but hope to garner more influence within their organisation, becoming a knowledge resource for understanding the change history and philosophy – a legacy building approach. These individuals would benefit from having formal opportunities to transfer their knowledge to others in their future work placements.

The above is based on work published in the following:

Tucker, D. A. &  Cirella, S. (2018) Agents of Change: Insights from Three Case Studies of Hospital Transformations. In Research in Organizational Change and Development, edited by Noumair, D. & Shani, A, Vol 26: 307-340

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