Although every organizational change initiative is different, all change agents face similar challenges. It doesn’t seem to matter how much experience you have, or what type of initiative you are implementing; when you start changing a system, there are tough decisions and actions you must take to see it through. And, while you can get better and more comfortable at facing these challenges, even experienced change agents struggle with them to some extent, because they never really go away – they are part of the fabric of organizational change.
These are the five challenges that every change agent deals with on a regular basis:
Navigating politics. Playing organizational politics means taking advantage of the system of power and relationships in the organization. Taken to an extreme, you would be manipulative dealmaker. On the other end of the spectrum, some change agents would prefer to ignore politics altogether. However, pretending the system doesn’t exist means you are blind to the way the organization works – the very organization you are trying to change. The effective approach to politics is somewhere between ignorance and exploitation. The challenge is choosing whose power to leverage (and how) without damaging relationships.
Balancing getting your way with gaining buy-in. Let’s face it; when it comes to your change initiative, you are probably the smartest person in the room. The problem is, you can’t just tell everyone what they should do! Instead, you have to allow people to participate and feel ownership, which requires letting them do it their own way at times. Knowing when to push and when to relax your requirements can be a tricky balance.
Speaking the truth. If change starts anywhere, it starts with the truth. Before people change, they have to acknowledge that change is required, and in order for that to happen, someone has to say it out loud. Whether it’s saying the thing that no one else wants to say, or sharing personal feedback in a difficult conversation, change agents must speak up. The challenge is choosing when to speak up and selecting the right words, so you can maintain relationships while enabling the change to happen.
Fighting for attention. The organization is still working while change is going on, so your project can easily become an afterthought. Since you can’t do the whole thing yourself, keeping the initiative going is a matter of getting other people to devote time and effort to move it forward. As a change agent, sometimes it feels like all you do is wait! But, your job is to figure out how to first gain attention and then influence people to take action or change their behavior in a reasonable amount of time.
Staying objective. As someone who is working for the same organization you are trying to change, it is easy to become part of the problem. After all, the same forces that are working to keep the organization in its current state are also working on you! The longer you work for an organization, the more “the way we do things around here” becomes the truth. That which can actually change seems unchangeable. The more things you take for granted, the more stuck you can become. Keeping an objective viewpoint is a difficult yet essential skill for effective change agents.
There is no easy answer to how to address these challenges. Each situation is different, and every change agent is unique. But, when it comes to making your change go, navigating these challenges is where the rubber hits the road.
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