Characteristics and Capabilities of Successful Change Agents

Change agents act as the champions or change catalysts. The change agents may play the role of a consultant who assists the client in strategically identifying and implementing solutions for overcoming organizational problems. They play the role of a facilitator and train the client on new skills, changes in the processes, vision, mission and organizational philosophy.

For efficiently handling such diverse roles and building facilitating mechanisms, change agents must possess some special characteristics which would distinguish them from others.

In the opinion of Morris and Shaskin, change agents should be an “extrovert, must have effective interpersonal skills, needs to be creative and a risk taker, and should be good at organizing various activities as per the requirements”.

Havelock and Shaskin identified some of the important characteristics of change agents as well as the organizations which they have denoted by an abbreviation HELP Scores. A detailed description of these characteristics is given below:

  1. Homophily: This implies the extent of closeness which exists between the client and also the change agent. The change is expected to achieve successful outcomes if the extent of closeness is higher between them.

  2. Empathy: The change agent should be empathetic and should be able to understand the other person’s emotions and thoughts. This understanding will strengthen client and change agent’s relationship; will improve communication which in turn will favorably influence the change.

  3. Linkage: Linkage implies the extent of collaborative relationship which exists between the client and the change agent. The stronger is the bond, the more likely is the possibility of achieving success from a change implementation.

  4. Proximity: The client, as well as the change agent, should be readily available to each other, it’s because greater the accessibility, stronger will be the bond or the relationship between the two.

  5. Structuring: This involves effective and a step by step planning of various activities associated with the implementation of change. Effective planning maximizes the possibility of achieving success in the change process implementation.

  6. Capacity: This factor is connected with the organization’s capability in providing the required resources which are essentially needed for successfully implementing OD interventions and the change.

  7. Openness: It refers to the ability of a change agent as well as the management in facilitating an open environment for building facilitating mechanisms and fostering mutual respect, trust, and sensitivity towards the feelings of others. The greater the degree of openness, the greater will be the possibility of achieving successful outcomes from change implementation.

  8. Reward: Any change initiative should have the potential for benefitting the beneficiaries both in the short run as well as in the long run. The higher the potential for rewards, greater will be the expected commitment of the participants in implementing the required change.

  9. Energy: Energy implies the extent of efforts applied for making change realizable. Energy involves both mental as well as physical energy, directed in a focused manner for achieving synergy in the outcomes.

  10. Synergy: By synergy we mean the sum of two or more is greater than the parts. Synergy in outcomes happens when all the above-mentioned factors are combined with the right set of people, resources, and activities.

What Change Agents are Capable of Changing

Change agents are capable of enforcing change broadly in four areas: Structure, Physical Setting, Technology, and People.

Structural change is all about making changes in the organizational structure, authority and hierarchical framework, job redesign, and various other structural variables.

Change in technology implies a change in the techniques, methods, processes or best practices or the way of working itself.

Change in the physical setting involves a change in the layout and also the spatial arrangements. Change agents also facilitate a change in the attitudes of people, skills, behavior and also their perceptions.

  • Structural Changes: Change agents hold the responsibility of making modifications in the organizational structure as per the changing circumstances or due to the growing pressure from the competitive or environmental forces. Organization structures are not designed concretely, and it keeps changing or is altered as per the changing requirements.

    A change agent may alter one or other elements of an organizational design. For example in a flatter organization, the organizational structure can be made less bureaucratic, various departmental roles which are interconnected can be combined, vertical layering can be removed and equally the span of control may be widened. Additional rules and regulations can be enforced for standardizing key areas of functioning.

    The change agent may introduce decentralization, can establish project teams or a matrix design for working on specialized projects.

    The change agents upon assessing the conditions of work; can be involved in job redesigning or work schedules, flexible work schedules, job enrichment, may modify the compensation structure and may introduce performance related bonuses or profit sharing.

  • Technological Changes: Technological changes deals with the introduction of new techniques of work, methods, new types of equipment, computerization or automation of the key functional systems of an organization.

    With ever increasing competition and the growing need for being innovative for maintaining a leadership edge amongst the competitors, change agents resort to the introduction of technological changes. For example, if we analyze the manufacturing organizations, modernization and best practices in production are being introduced just to cut the cost of manufacturing.

  • Changes in the Physical Setting: Changes in the Layout or Physical Settings is not decided over nightly or randomly. Based on the demands of work, requirements of interacting formally and also the need for socialization, the decisions related to interior designing, space planning, etc, are finalized accordingly.

  • People Related Changes: Change agents play a crucial role in facilitating individuals as well as groups within the organization so that they may work collaboratively. The change agents change the attitudes, behavior or the mindset for people by using OD interventions as per the requirements of the circumstances.

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Change Management