Originally published on August 27th, 2019 on changeleadershipadvisors.com.

Create a Movement with a Change Agent Network (Part 2 of 3)

Using a change agent network is one way to create a movement for change within your organization. Your network can provide valuable insight into how to prepare people to change, as well as build strong commitment and ownership along the journey. To build your network, you must be clear about the characteristics you seek in a change agent and intentionally select people to be part of it.

But First, Why? Decide the purpose of your network before you put it together. Most often a change network is charged with figuring out HOW a change is best rolled out to people, rather than providing feedback on WHAT the change itself is. If you decide to use a change network for more of a design-based purpose or for both the WHAT and HOW of the change, be clear about which hat the participants are wearing so they don’t waste time trying to adjust the change but can focus on how it will happen. In one of my early network attempts, I failed to do this. Fortunately, a couple of the participants reached out to tell me how confused they were about their role in the network. They were trying to design the change rather than the way we needed to implement it. At our next gathering, I reset expectations and regained their commitment to participate. I was lucky that everyone agreed to continue, but we lost some time while re-calibrating and I had to reestablish some trust and credibility with the team.

  1. Identify your stakeholders, the key groups of people who will have to do something different as a result of the change. Figure out what each group will do differently, what they think about the change, how big a deal it is to them and what we need from them for the change to be successful.
  2. A good place to look for change agents is within groups who are typically ahead of the curve in adopting new things in the organization. These change agents can provide much-needed positivity and momentum for your work.
  3. Individuals who have volunteered to be part of strategic initiatives before can bring needed experience into your change agent network. Take care, however, that you aren’t tapping into the same people over and over. You want a balance of new perspectives.
  4. Look for people who already demonstrate the behaviors and actions we want to see with the change. These people provide a visible example to others and show that the desired behaviors and actions are attainable.
  5. Get to know the existing social networks and communities within the organization such as employee resource groups, communities of practice and volunteer teams. These representatives can give early feedback on your messages and activities before you launch them to a larger population.
  6. Speak with the leaders of the department, team or stakeholder group to request participation of their people in the change agent network. Most companies prefer to alert a person’s leader or manager before that person participates in an extracurricular activity outside of their day job. Save a potential headache later by involving the leader or manager early. Keep the initial discussion with the leader or manager conversational. Help the leader understand how participation in the change network benefits them and their employees. In one organization where I worked, our change agent network allowed participants to demonstrate an important core competency – champion change. Connecting participation to development goals, enhanced relationships, network building or a higher degree of positive visibility in the organization makes the opportunity even more attractive.
  7. Establish a time limit for participation and then allow participants to “re-up,” especially for long programs or an on-going functional need. One year is more than enough for these, and in some cases depending on your organizational culture and what else is happening, six months may be more appropriate.

If you missed Part 1 of this series, click the link to read the article. What Makes a Good Change Agent?

In the final article of this series, Part 3 of “Create a Movement with a Change Agent Network,” we’ll talk about the resources your change agents need to do their job well. If you have questions or want help building your change agent network, drop me a line at erikam@changeleadershipadvisors.com.

Also, check out my podcast interview by Heather Stagl of Enclaria on”Building Change Capability Through Change Agent Networks.”

Special thanks to Dana Peebles for her editing and insights on this article series.