7 common techniques used by Change Agents
In part 1, we saw the basic definitions of a change agent, their roles and responsibilities. In this blog, we will take an in-depth look at the techniques used by change agents in order to achieve a common objective.
What techniques are used by change agents?
Change agents need to use a variety of techniques from organizational change management. These alone will not give any guarantee of success, as a change agent’s personality, common sense, skills and experience are more important than using techniques robotically. A good change agent will have developed experience using several of these, and use them in combination to suit particular circumstances.
Here’s a short description of the most important techniques used by change agents
Transactional analysis is one of the most important techniques that a change agent can use. This is because success in being a change agent requires a full understanding of human behaviors, and why people say and do things. The technique is derived from a combination of concepts from psychology and psychotherapy. It can be used by change agents to help to understand the mental perspective of both themselves and another person, and is especially useful when negotiating.
Transactional analysis has been used successfully by change agents for many years in a wide variety of situations. It uses a concept that there are four life positions that a person can hold in any conversation or exchange. Each position determines how an individual behaves and responds. A change agent needs to understand what each position is, and be able to determine, using language and body language. Positions will change during most exchanges, and should be analyzed from the perspective of both the change agent and the other person in the exchange so that the change agent can take the most appropriate approach. Sometimes, the positions are mapped to adult and child relationships.
Stakeholder analysis is a project management technique that analyzes and categorizes all types of stakeholder involved in or likely to be affected by the transformation. A change agent can use the analysis to assess how they can ensure that they address the interests of the stakeholders, keeping them on-board with the transformation and avoiding any disruption by them. The change agent or another OCM practitioner should create a matrix of all stakeholders, and assess and record their expected attitudes to the transformation.
Stakeholder analysis should be done early in the transformation, but may need to be regularly reviewed and updated as stakeholder attitudes can change over time. A change agent needs to know the different stakeholder attitudes so that they can appropriately tailor their approach to them. Change agents need to be able to identify what are known as ‘silent assassins’. These are stakeholders that publicly seem to support the transformation, but in fact do anything they can to disrupt what the change agent is trying to do.
MoSCoW analysis is a prioritization technique that change agents can use to gain common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement. The term MoSCoW is an acronym derived from the first letter of each of four prioritization categories (Must have, Should have, Could1 have, and Won’t have). The change owner should build a matrix with these categories on one access and each stakeholder on the other axis. There will be multiple matrices, one for each requirement identified in the transformation strategy. A change agent should use the output from a MoSCoW analysis to tailor their influencing strategy for different stakeholders, giving priority to anything marked as a ‘must have’.
Persuasion and influencing
A change agent must be able to construct a persuasive argument to help influence and convince people about the need for and benefits of a transformation and the associated activities required to deliver it. The precise construct used by the change agent will vary according to the activities and the person that needs to be persuaded. Some techniques can be usefully deployed by a change agent:
- Use facts and evidence to support the reasoning. Ideally, the facts should mean something to the person being persuaded. It is more difficult for people to build a counter-argument if appropriate facts are used. The change agent must be careful to use facts that are relevant to and support their argument, and omit any that don’t.
- Plan the flow of the interaction. A good technique for a change agent is to start any persuasion with a statement of the current position using facts and evidence that the other person will agree with, immediately followed by gaining their agreement on the current position. That can then be followed with an understanding of the impact on that person which helps them to start to trust the change agent. The change agent then states what they would like the other person to do, then asks for their feedback and agreement.
- Use jargon appropriately. The change agent must always use terms that the person will understand. If there is any specific jargon in common use within the organization, then the change agent should use it as this will help to demonstrate that they understand the organization. Care must be taken by the change agent to use it in context, otherwise, it can come across that they are only using the jargon to impress.
- Keep it short and succinct. A good persuasive argument should only address a single topic. If a change agent divides a complex topic into individual items, the change agent is more likely to achieve success, as each item will be easier to comprehend and explain.
- Design for early wins. When a complex topic is divided up, it is a good idea for the change agent to prioritize engagement for topics where they expect easier agreement. This helps to build confidence and trust in both parties.
- Focus on agreeing to principles and outcomes, not on low-level activities. It is more important and often easier for a change agent to gain agreement on principles and outcomes. Discussions can easily get embroiled in the fine detail of low-level activities before the high-level outcomes are agreed. This can frustrate progress and force the change agent to subsequently re-open discussions on the low-level items if the principles and outcomes that they were based on need to be changed.
Presentations are a useful way for a change agent to get ideas across. However, they must be succinct, and the change agent must ensure that the content is relevant to the audience. Change agents should use presentations to complement the other tools and techniques. Using presentations alone is unlikely to be a successful approach for any change agent.
Influencing is a two-way approach. As well as providing information, a change agent must be a good listener. This includes what is known as ‘active listening’, where the body language and words used by the change agent make it clear to the other person that the change agent is not just listening to what someone else is saying but is also understanding and considering the contents. A change agent must also mentally record the conversation, supported by notes, but use listening skills supported by visual signals to understand the true meaning of what is being said. People who are affected by a transformation often say one thing to a change agent but mean something different.
WIIFM stands for ‘What’s in it for me?’. This is one of the most valuable techniques for any change agent. The idea is that the change agent thinks from the perspective of the person that they want to influence. The change agent has to think about what the effect of the transformation will be on that particular person, including positive and negative effects. To do this the change agent has to consider the personality, needs, and role of the person as well as what tangible effect the transformation will have on them. The change agent must be able to answer the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ before they develop their influencing approach as if the person had asked them directly. This technique helps to prepare a strategy and approach that is more likely to lead to success than adopting the same method for everybody. As well as using it during preparation, a change agent can also use it during one-to-one conversations to formulate appropriate answers to questions.
This concludes Part 2 of the 2-part series on change agents. Stay home, stay safe.
Blog illustrations: Swetha Kanithi
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