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How to Lead a Change Agent

You Can't Outsource Leadership

Change agents run into prob­lems when they bring pow­er­ful vision and hope into an inse­cure com­pa­ny. When they arrive, lead­ers can feel as though their cul­ture and goal, maybe even their posi­tion and author­i­ty, are threat­ened. But the answer isn’t to give up. Instead, find out how to turn a change agent from your per­son­al com­pe­ti­tion to a pow­er­ful cat­a­lyst for suc­cess.

You can’t Lead What You Don’t Understand

So you want good things to hap­pen in your team, so you give the job to some­one. And even bet­ter, this per­son has done it before…in a larg­er company…with much suc­cess.

But as the weeks progress, you start to ques­tion whether he can real­ly do it. In the end, he fails and you’re left say­ing “We tried that. It didn’t work.”

But do you know WHY it didn’t work?

Why can’t you import change into a cul­ture? We’re gonna go over a few myths and see if we can’t under­stand things a lit­tle bet­ter.

Myths of Importing Leadership

Just because some­one cre­at­ed change in anoth­er orga­ni­za­tion doesn’t mean they can do it in your orga­ni­za­tion. Because, the truth is, it wasn’t just them mak­ing change before, and it won’t be just them involved when they arrive on your team.

  • Change doesn’t come with risk. “They did it at Nike, so they have a proven track record. They can for sure do it here.” Change always comes with risk. No two sit­u­a­tions are exact­ly alike. There will be risk, and if you can’t under­stand how to assess and coach the suc­cess of an inno­va­tor, you should not try.
  • Change doesn’t have to change our cul­ture. “Why should we have to change our cul­ture just to inno­vate.” Inno­va­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty change the way you do things. It rep­re­sents a val­ues change. If you’ve been talk­ing about cre­ativ­i­ty, that’s one thing. But when your team sees you actu­al­ly doing it, they’re gonna adjust. And when you bring in some­one to fix any­thing, and it’s work­ing, you might see peo­ple start to feel threat­ened and become entrenched. And if you ignore the prob­lem or han­dle it poor­ly, be pre­pared for prob­lems.
  • Change doesn’t have to change our process­es in oth­er areas of our com­pa­ny. “Why should it affect man­u­fac­tur­ing, when the inno­va­tion is in cus­tomer ser­vice?” By def­i­n­i­tion, change affects every­thing about your com­pa­ny. It will have a rip­ple effect, and there will be small prob­lems in oth­er areas of the com­pa­ny as cer­tain areas align faster than oth­ers.

And when you’re the leader, all these things fall on you. If you hire the right per­son, but aren’t able to sup­port them, they’ll fail, and you’ll be left doing dam­age con­trol. This is why the fol­low­ing solu­tion is so impor­tant.

Lead Change. But Don’t Manage It.

  • Go all the way. Did you know that, when you bring in some­one to affect change, you’re bring­ing in lead­er­ship? So don’t go halfway. Go all the way. Make it crys­tal clear where change can hap­pen, so you don’t have to make deci­sions case-by-case (also called “micro­man­age­ment”).
  • Be more deci­sive: think it through. The eas­i­est way? Before you hire her as a leader on your team, hire her as a con­sul­tant. Have her make the plan and write up the job descrip­tion with you, so you can talk through the “why” and “how.”
  • Con­tract first, to test lead­er­ship. Make sure he’s a leader who makes every­one feel respect­ed. Warn­ing: don’t go on your impres­sion, because sales­peo­ple are good at putting on a good face in front of their boss. So make sure by talk­ing with peo­ple in the orga­ni­za­tion before hir­ing. It doesn’t hurt if he’s a good pre­sen­ter and train­er.

Change. But Count the Costs.

If you’re think­ing about chang­ing any­thing big with­in your orga­ni­za­tion, watch out for these myths. Not only are they not true, but you don’t want them to be true. If you want your team to work with integri­ty, that means everything’s aligned. And when you bring on inno­va­tion, cre­ativ­i­ty or just prob­lem solv­ing, it becomes who you are. And that’s a good thing.

The moral of the sto­ry: If you’re a leader, try­ing to affect change, that’s usu­al­ly a good thing. And if you count the costs, you reduce your risk of fail­ure sig­nif­i­cant­ly, while increas­ing your chances of real, pos­i­tive change in your team.

Dis­cuss this fur­ther on Slack.