Leaders are always agents of change, individuals whose role it is to guide an organization, or a particular subgroup within that organization, through the process of change. Leaders must prepare both themselves and others for inevitable changes the organization will face. Change is a given. We cannot avoid it nor should we want to. But change can be less painful and channeled toward more positive outcomes by developing change management skills.
There are two basic kinds of change: incremental change and frame-breaking change. Incremental change is called for when an organization is going through a period of growth and satisfactory goal achievement. During such time, it would be unwise to seek radical alterations of the organization’s philosophy and purpose.
When things are on a downslide, however, or when abrupt environmental changes occur that threaten the organization, we must be prepared for frame-breaking change. That is when the organization must rethink its purpose, values and strategies.
Resilience, insight, identity, discernment, and capacity development are core skills of a good change agent.
Resilience has to do with the leader’s self-perception. It is a belief and confidence in oneself that allows the leader to take risks. Confidence allows the change agent to admit his or her mistakes. Good change agents do not engage in blaming others for their failures. They do not feel the need to do so, because they know that failure is a stepping stone toward eventual success. Resilience also has to do with a desire to achieve and to reach goals that go beyond the current life of the organization.
Insight is an educated awareness of what is going on in the environment in which the organization exists. What are the influences and forces that force the organization to adapt or die? It is the ability to analyze the organization’s current program and processes. Are they adequate to meet the demands of the coming future? It is the ability to challenge one’s assumptions, to evaluate what is happening, to lay aside personal comfort and to consider alternative interpretations of reality.
Identity is a sense of who we are. Good change agents understand where the organization is going. They can see the big picture. They identify their personal vision and that of the organization. This gives them a clear sense of direction. They are able to give voice to that vision. They have goals; but they know how to keep their goals flexible enough to receive new input.
Whereas insight and vision are expansive processes by which we multiply ideas, discernment is a constrictive process wherein we select the best idea based on evidence. Effective agents of change require data that supports the new direction. They know how to take elusive values and transform them into measurable objectives. They use a wide variety of instruments and methods. Among these tools, the change agent knows how to use both attitude surveys and statistical analyses. They will combine the benefits of both qualitative and quantitative measures. They will seek multiple sources for information that will help decide where the organization is going and how well it is achieving its purpose.
They also know how to differentiate between useful information and noise. Agents of change will streamline their evaluative tools so that no time is wasted on useless statistics. They will incorporate evaluative analysis into the ongoing functioning of the organization. On the basis of their evaluations, they will develop scenarios for alternative futures. They will help the organization to ask “what if’ questions that will prepare it for the unexpected.
Capacity development is the process of helping others develop the skills needed for the future organization. They know how to help individuals link their personal goals with those of the organization. Leadership development becomes an ongoing constant within the culture of the organization. Such development is enforced by policies that require employees to learn new skills, try new functions and to be in a state of continuous personal growth. The change agent will help individuals choose their own goals and take ownership of their future.
Change is inevitable. The question is not whether to change but how to harness the forces of change for the good of the organization and its people. This is the task of leadership today.
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.