The leadership role held by someone with authority is unique. When it comes to implementing change, there are some things that only people with authority can do effectively, like communicating, making decisions, role modeling, and holding people accountable. But the exclusive capabilities of leaders also mean there are some things they just can’t do by nature of their position. Change agents, on the other hand, provide a necessary set of responsibilities that can only be done by someone who doesn’t have direct authority.
Leaders’ actions have a tremendous impact on how the change is perceived. Employees continually monitor words, behavior and decisions of those with authority for consistency, to evaluate if they are serious about implementing the change. Unfortunately, leaders are not always self-aware enough to realize the impact of their own actions. Change agents see leaders from the point of view of employees and can provide constructive feedback when leaders do something cringe-worthy.
Change agents add a neutral perspective to the project. Their goal is to implement change that works, not to get their way. Their objective point of view allows them to facilitate effective meetings, by focusing on having the right conversation instead of advocating a specific position. When change stirs up animosity between individuals or groups, change agents can act as a mediator to resolve the conflict.
Change agents have a different relationship than leaders with the employees who are going through the change. Because they lack direct authority, change agents are less threatening than those whom employees view as the boss. Not having the “boss” label allows change agents to hear more concerns and feedback from employees who might otherwise stay silent. By empathizing with those who are impacted by the change, change agents add a dimension of transparency to communication.
Increasing Change Capability
When there are people in your organization who are dedicated change agents, it increases the whole organization’s ability to change. When the same group brings a common language and set of tools to multiple projects, it starts to standardize the approach to change. As change agents share their learning across the organization, they beget more change agents who can carry out the work in other areas.
Leaders and change agents hold two unique roles in organizational change. Leaders provide the necessary alignment only those with authority can do. Change agents work from an impartial position that allows them to deliver essential services that would otherwise go undone. Change agents without leaders lack muscle. And leaders without change agents are blind. Both roles must partner together to deliver a balanced approach to change.