Depending on their job and organization, change agents have different relationships with the people who are going through the change. Some organizations have centralized departments of internal change consultants that do work for other departments. Some change agents work in roles where it’s their job to change the way others work, like IT, HR or project management, for example. Others are trying to make improvements in their own departments and those immediately connected with them. The common thread is that change agents work to influence change in others within their own organization.
How the others perceive your role as change agent is critical to their willingness to work with you on the current initiative. And your career as a change agent is dependent on them wanting to work with you again in the future. You can be many things – process maven, communication writer, team facilitator, template creator, project manager, leadership coach – but ultimately, you are a service provider. At your best, you provide excellent help. To that end, it is crucial to treat those going through the change, as well as their managers, as customers of the service you provide.
When you see others as the customers of your change management services, it gives you a healthy perspective. It keeps you from seeing people as pawns in your implementation, and it ensures you keep their interests in mind. You won’t lose sight of the service you provide in the midst of pressure to push things through to implementation.
Take the following steps to lock in your role as an excellent service provider.
Identify your customers
Start by identifying who your customers are. Chances are you have more than one type. Your customers may be the project sponsor, the employees going through change, the department managers, and the broader organization. Determine those individuals and groups who are impacted by the change initiative, and who have an interest in the outcome.
Understand their needs
Work to understand the needs of each customer. Different customers usually have different needs, and most likely they conflict with each other. Keep in mind their actual needs may be different from the ones they say they need. Professional needs, such as meeting defined goals or improving teamwork, are more easily identified, while personal needs, such as overcoming fear or restoring relationships, usually require deeper analysis and diagnosis on your part.
Match your services to their needs
Change agents have a variety of tools in their toolkit that can help customers with what they need. But using them all at once, or just because you can, would be overwhelming. Look from the customer’s perspective to see what value you add with the services you provide. For example, you may help them:
- Fill technical gaps, like training, templates, or methodology
- Overcome resistance and other challenges
- See and discuss issues that would otherwise be ignored
- Save time by providing an extra resource to get things done
- Keep focused so the urgent everyday scramble doesn’t crowd out the change.
As you develop your approach, clarify the real need you are filling with the help you provide, and make sure that need is felt by the customer. A mismatch may cause the customer to feel like you are causing pain and disruption instead of great service.
Balance different customer needs
Like coming up with a recipe for breakfast cereal that tastes good so kids eat it and that is healthy so parents buy it, providing excellent service means helping the parties collectively come to an optimal solution. You must work to balance the goals and needs of each party, even when they are at odds with each other. For example, you may have to balance the need to strictly adhere to deadlines, processes or rules, while allowing room for people to make it their own at a reasonable pace.
Don’t provide more than they need
A typical customer service credo may be to give 110% effort to delight customers, but when it comes to implementing change, less may be more. The best solution may not be to do everything for them, but instead to help them do some of the work themselves so they own the solution. The value you provide as change agent is to help your customers do what they can’t do on their own. Providing too much help may do more harm than good.
Ultimately, the definition of great service is not up to you. The ones who determine whether you’ve provided it are the customers themselves. Would the customers of your change initiative ask you to come back for the next change? Would they say you provide excellent help?