Are You Growing Change Agents in Your Organization?

There’s a great cartoon that says ‘Who wants change?’ and everyone wildly waves their hands in the air. The next question is ‘Who wants to change?’ and all the hands come down. ‘Nope. Not me.’

Every good organization wants to change. You want to transform services, reorganize, centralize, or expand your mobile technology to be competitive and grow. These big changes affect everything – how you work, go to market and define success.

Are people in your organization prepared and ready to deliver this change? Probably not nearly enough of them.

Change agents only grow in certain conditions. They grow when experimentation is valued, planning is agile, and the hierarchy of everything is only used when it’s really needed. Just like a dry, underwatered garden, change agents can’t grow in just any situation or culture.

If you need to grow more change agents in your organization, check your conditions to know if you are ripe for growth. These everyday barriers get in the way:

Static annual objectives: Big, bold changes in your business and organizations aren’t static and won’t line up perfectly with your year-long performance review calendar. Yet, many organizations still set annual objectives that have enormous impact and are very cumbersome to change. If promotions, rewards and individual or team success are based on objectives that are obsolete or out of date in four months, guess what? You’ll get them anyway. (And, all the more reason to introduce a more flexible performance feedback approach.)

Hierarchy rules: Organizations that rely on hierarchy have certain characteristics that show up even if they don’t describe their culture as hierarchical. It looks like career paths that are strict and uniform, communication that always cascades down from the top, and narrow accountability. People know to stay in their lane. Too much hierarchy can squash change agents. Either they leave or they unlearn natural change agent skills. Structure is needed and important to get stuff done, but if the hierarchy matters more than anything else it overpowers the innovation and creativity.

No mistake zone. Entrepreneurs start businesses with a simple business case, investment plan and a big dose of passion. I’ve yet to meet an entrepreneur who built a business that had all of the answers upfront. Change is a lot like that – you learn as you go because it’s impossible to know everything upfront. There will be trial and error. Experiments will work and some won’t. Flexible and iterative planning are musts. Spend more time discussing ‘What did we learn?’ and less on ‘tracking completed tasks.’

Presentations more than conversations: Decks, of course, are the presentations used in business when two or more gather. It’s like the old tree in the forest joke, if there is a meeting and there’s no deck – did it really happen? Decks are a formal mechanism, and sometimes a crutch, to communicate out information – not designed for participation and conversation. Change agents are born in conversation. The hands-on involvement and participation is what makes them sign up.

Are you growing change agents in your organization? Identify the inhibitors, the obstacles and barriers that keep conditions from being right for growth. There is a chance you may not even know they are there.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be followed @pattibjohnson.