My colleagues and I are often asked to ‘decode’ the process of business transformation and provide the repeatable ‘formula’ for success. I guess this is understandable given that widely quoted statistic – you know the one – that 70% of all change efforts fail.
In a way, this interest in our work is very humbling. In another way, it’s pretty darn intimidating. Our practices have evolved organically around our clients and our people over time, and along with it, so has our so called ‘formula’ for transformation.
One thing I do know for certain is that the role of the change agent – internal and external – is critical in any transformation process. Recently, I’ve been asked to speak quite a bit on this topic; to effectively answer the question “What does it take to be a transformational change agent? It’s been a personally challenging and exciting journey to try and articulate my thoughts, so let me share with you what I’ve learned.
In our own practice, as well as in my observation of others, I’ve identified fifteen attributes that the best change agents appear to share.
These are classified as DOING (the specific skills and methods for creating change), SEEING (the ability to make sense of, and reshape perceptions of ‘reality’) and BEING (personal characteristics and qualities).
In my experience, one of the biggest traps for change agents is an over-whelming emphasis on ‘DOING’. This is understandable given it’s ‘the stuff’ of change, and is readily observable and actionable. It is now, however, my very strong belief that the most effective ‘DOING’ is preceded by ‘SEEING’, which, in turn, is preceded by ‘BEING’.
Below is how I have codified the key attributes of the transformational change agent under these three headings. While we have used these attributes as an internal benchmark in our company for a while, I’ve only begun speaking about them publicly very recently. The very positive response has only served to invigorate my belief in the value of this content.
DOING – the specific skills and methods for creating change
1. They create a setting for success, without needing to control the process
2. They artfully apply frameworks, models and tools
3. They provide correction to senior executives without causing resentment
4. They appeal to the heart (emotion) and then the head (logic)
5. They make a call to action
SEEING – the ability to make sense of, and reshape perceptions of ‘reality’
6. They see a different ‘normal’
7. They see the distinction between fact and truth
8. They see leaders in a sympathetic light
9. They see all interventions in a strategic context
10. They see a ‘higher self’
BEING – personal characteristics and qualities of transformational change agents
11. They are a role model first and a preacher second
12. They are optimistic; they inspire hope not fear
13. They are courageous and selfless
14. They are trusted, and leverage it
15. They are in service, not subservience
It would be disingenuous and inauthentic to claim that we have cracked the code. Even with many case studies in hand, my colleagues and I remain students and learners trying to perfect our craft and make sense of this complex and nuanced phenomenon called transformation. That said, we have learned from our client experiences, good and bad, that there are several common elements to successful transformation efforts.
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