How to single-handedly run a change initiative

That’s actually quite simple – you don’t!

A common way to facilitate change is by having change agents, and that actually seems to be exactly what is needed to make change happen. Yet the role of these change agents can vary tremendously – from someone requoting the initiative’s vision statement to everyone who wants to listen, to an agent of the workforce to seek out the best possible solution for the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the idea of the “change agent” per se. I just found out that the name has so many meanings that it becomes either meaningless or extremely context-dependent. For my work – helping organizations adapting new ideas – I found that a change approach with a clear direction is quite helpful and very of a very small number (sometimes 1) of external consultants or coaches is brought in to facilitate this change.

Even though we would like as many people as possible to take an active part in the formulation of the new direction, most of the time that change needs some external insights that are not available from inside the system. As Jerry Weinberg would say: “The Fish is always the last one to see the water.”

So the kind of change agent we need in this case would be one who is amplifing the external influence and is the kernel of the internal change. Still not someone left to his own devices, but rather someone who acts in both directions as a focal point for the change. Multiplying the view from the outside and channeling the (numerous) questions that will arise from the inside. And while they will need to question the outside source often in the beginning, as time passes they will gain more and more knowledge – as will the whole organization – and will be able to drive more and more of the change from the inside.

There is a word in German that we use to call people who amplify the impact of others, we call them “Multiplikatoren” which would roughly translate to “Multipliers” in English. Due to an unexpected chain of event we ended up with the old English word “Multiplicator” to describe the role in a recent project.

I kind of like the word by now – the use of uncontemporary language makes it obvious that we don’t really mean “multiplier” in a mathematical sense and it still conveys the basic idea.

And IMHO having this kind of change agent is one of the key success factors for change inititives – lean, agile or else.

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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