Understand the change agent

Mobilise the people who make change happen in your business.

 

A change agent turns what’s intangible into results. These business catalysts are as unique as they are dynamic but share discernible characteristics, or ways of operating.

At Else, our approach to ensure their success—and the right design solution—depends on getting to know their business context and how they operate personally. Here, we’ve distilled Else experience into quick insight to move innovators forward.

What’s in a name?

The sanctioned change agent

Licensed to innovate

You’re hired by the CEO as the head of design or innovation, let’s say, or have a green light for change based on your fresh perspective. The ‘sanctioned change agent’ is sponsored at a high level: you have a C-suite audience and ready influence.

Even when a business has an appetite for change, the protagonist needs endurance to get a project over the line. Articulating the case for transformation is largely a continuous task, made upwards and outwards across multiple functions and contexts, be it commercial, marketing or technical.

Design provides that common language change agents and diverse stakeholders need. The components of it are active, human and practical – listening, processing, framing and suggesting ideas – prompts that let conversations flow, allowing groups to coalesce as things progress. Design also adds velocity: turning strategy into tangible formats like customer experience blueprints, design mock-ups, models or prototypes.

The accidental change agent

Nominated for the spotlight

You’re a product owner (PO) tasked to commission transformation – you have capability but often lack consensus on a goal. This challenge shows up time and again in different settings.

In this situation, prioritisation clarifies both the desired state of product and direction of travel. RICE is a useful calibration tool to pitch and measure ideas against reach, impact, confidence and effort. And the speedy nature of ‘dot voting’ can focus minds on where customer appeal and business fit, using a tunable set of angles. Whatever the tool, presenting ideas in a consistent format to a small team supports fair evaluation.

Inherent qualities of calibration tools like these solve the second need as organisational pressure bears down. For example, active listening tees up agreement after people feel heard and recognise their thinking has been factored in. In turn, this galvanises support and aids the momentum of a project.

The maverick change agent

A futurist on the loose

You’re new to a business or a recent arrival, and don’t have permission to create change yet. The ‘maverick change agent’ can be a CEO or C-suite role, but often pushes boundaries working at director level.

An instinctive innovator, a disruptor-style change agent will be commercially astute. They can be reluctant to evaluate how change starts due to a sense of urgency: it can stem from the feeling of being an early warning system or satellite of opportunity. Here, we champion a reset: being progressive doesn’t have to be polarising.

The benefit of bringing people with you, rather than hacking into a future that not everyone understands yet, has clear advantages across personnel, product and investment. Subtle shifts in personal delivery and action can be surprisingly powerful – they effect smoother runnings for projects and organisations.

For example, the market space you see feels imperative, but expressing it as a binary choice can leave stakeholders out in the cold if they don’t grasp your mission. Avoid convincing mode, akin to strong-arming an audience into submission, and adapt a campfire scenario to engender inclusivity: warm up the atmosphere and open a conversation – focus on probing and aligning. Shared understanding is the most convincing starting point to build a case for change.

Be ready to change

Whatever kind of change agent you are, understanding your situation and default approach will make you a more effective catalyst. Because perspective helps to de-risk any transformation set-up, prevents you from getting caught trying to effect change in a vacuum, and offers up the tools required to take others with you through moments of change.

Want a fresh perspective?

We partner with change agents across the globe, negotiating risk to move their organisations forward. Get in touch with the Else team to share your journey or for insight on a current project.

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