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Are you a Champion of Change?

Dave Berube, Life Cycle Engineering

The company has embarked on a new change initiative. It could be Lean Manufacturing, Safety Excellence, Operational Excellence, or improving Asset Management. Having a great initiative that you want to implement is only part of the equation. We must get our initiative accepted as well as implemented. Like most major change initiatives, a champion has been assigned. This time it is you. Do you have what it takes to be a “Champion of Change”? What does it take to be a champion and how can we best set up our champion for success? Champions of change must be:

Available and Visible

When leading change, it is important to actually be there. You can’t lead from your office. You have to be visible and lead from the front lines of the change. You must have the time to build coalitions, communicate to employees, and attend project status and team meetings. You must take the time to understand project milestones and timelines. You have to be there during all phases of the project. You need to communicate results, look for resistance, and ensure that the change is being reinforced. It is very difficult to be a part-time champion. You must have the bandwidth to be an effective champion of change.

Passionate and Persevering

Passion and perseverance are essential. As the champion you must truly believe in the initiative at hand. Your passion and enthusiasm will be infectious and will create a positive influence. Without passion, there may not be sufficient energy to propel the change initiative. You must also be persistent. You can’t be a quitter. While implementing major change there are sure to be bumps and obstacles in the road. How do you handle bumps and obstacles? Do you fold under the pressure or do you improvise, overcome, or adapt? However, even great passion and perseverance will have a diminished effect if you lack credibility.

Credible

Do you consider yourself an expert? Are you considered to be an expert by others? The two questions are not the same. Remember that credibility is in the eye of the beholder. It is not about what you think about yourself. It is about what others think about you. When you are a new employee walking in the door, you are given some level of credibility based on your education, background, and experience. That is your starting point. What you do next on a day to day basis will either boost or diminish your credibility amongst your superiors, subordinates and peers. Building credibility takes time, often several years and it never ends. There is always the need and constant opportunities to create relationships and build trust.

Coalition Builder

When implementing change it is often said that “having the right answer is not enough.” Even if you are the most credible person on the planet, there are times that your individual credibility is insufficient to get everyone to buy in on the change initiative. We must gather support of other well-respected, credible individuals. In effect, you must be able to create a team of champions at all levels of the organization to support the change. Do you have enough horsepower to influence senior leaders? Can you work with the executive sponsor? Senior leader support carries greater weight and in the end, for any major change to be successfully implemented, it will require their active and visible sponsorship. Having members of your coalition with high seniority is critical to your success.

Team Player and Trust Builder

Are you known as a team player or are you only a team player when it fits with your priorities? It is important that this change not be about you. It must be about benefiting the entire team. When communicating success be sure to praise others and never pat yourself on the back. This is a critical element in building trust. Building trust is not easy because this again is not just about you. What is the current level of transparency and trust in the organization? Is the environment built upon partnerships or silos? Have previous changes failed? Do people feel safe or is every day a battle for survival? Success in implementing new initiatives is directly affected by the level of mutual trust and teamwork that exists. The greater the risk that an idea introduces to individuals and the organization, the greater the level of trust that is required.

Master of the People Side of Change

To be an effective change champion it’s important to know that solid project management is not enough. You must understand the “people side of change.” You need to be aware of how people will react when changes occur and recognize that resistance to change is normal. You should be familiar with change management methodologies and how they are implemented.

Key Factors in Ensuring Your Effectiveness as a Champion of Change

Vision Alignment

Alignment is a key factor for success. In order for someone to positively respond to your new initiative, they must see how it fits within the company’s goals. If their individual goals are also connected to the company’s goals we then have further alignment. It is extremely important that we are both trying to get to the same place. Be sure to frame the change initiative as a “we” initiative. “What are our specific business challenges?” “What are the risks of not changing?” “How can we improve?” “How can we achieve our corporate goals?” “Why must we do it now?”

Change Management Methodology

The leading researcher of best practices in change management, Prosci, finds that projects with excellent change management effectiveness are six times more likely to meet or exceed project objectives. Prosci’s research also found that there is a direct correlation between project effectiveness and staying on schedule and within budget. Effective change management means applying a structured process to analyze change risks, creating a change strategy, communicating effectively, adequately training people, and supporting sponsors and managers in leading the change.

Communication Effectiveness

Our ideas cannot be forced upon others. We need to communicate, communicate, and communicate. To communicate effectively we must speak the language of our audience. Do not use technical words that your audience will not understand. Stick to the facts. Provide very concrete examples and avoid the theoretical and abstract. Answer the questions in their mind. What are we trying to change and where? Why are we trying to change it? Is there really a sense of urgency to do it right now? Who needs to change? How will we be able to make the change?

A comprehensive communication plan is essential for effective communication. You need to identify the audience, the key messages, match the sender to the audience, ensure proper timing, and communicate often. It has been proven that face-to-face communication is the most effective, so encourage leaders and managers to get out of their offices, have one-on-one discussions and even meet informally with employees.

Results Matter

Your organization embarked on a change initiative for a reason. In the end it must produce results. Since money talks, the organization must build a solid business case for why the change is needed. The benefits must also be tied to achieving the company’s vision. When there is a business case we expect to see measureable results on the back end. Achieving desired performance and results are some of the best ways to reinforce a change.

For very large changes, results can be lagging. Where possible, you must find some quick wins. One of the best ways to prove concepts is conducting them within a controllable, pilot area if at all possible. Document and track both the tangible and non-tangible benefits. Document and track the measurable results. Be sure that the results are publicized and communicated!

Sustainability

As new behaviors are established, they must be reinforced. Reinforcement can be accomplished in several ways. One way is to talk about it. Ask employees for feedback on change effectiveness and incorporate their suggestions. Observe the new behaviors in action as well as observing if the old behaviors are still occurring. Conduct formal audits and analyze the usage of new systems and tool. Collect all your findings, create, and execute corrective action plans.

An often missed form of reinforcement is celebration. Celebrate not only the end result but also the baby steps and milestones. You must also ensure that the changes from the initiative are anchored in the future state so that it does not become another “flavor of the month.” This can be accomplished by adjusting systems such as the performance management system or modifying organizational structures.

Summary

Becoming a champion of change—achieving buy-in and managing complex change—is truly not a one-time event. It is an ongoing, competency-building process. It requires the involvement of not only champions but also change management professionals, senior leaders, managers, and employees. It requires teamwork, building coalitions, and partnerships. It requires effective communication. The big difference between companies that successfully implement key initiatives and those that don’t lies not in the long list of great ideas and initiatives but in the ability to effectively manage change.

Champions of change are a critical component to effectively managing change. They must be team players, be available, visible, and credible. They require the ability to build coalitions and trust within the organization. Champions of change need to understand the people side of change. So, now that you know, do you have what it takes to be a champion of change?

Dave Berube, a Principal Consultant for Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) and retired US Navy Chief Petty Officer, has more than 30 years of experience in leadership and management within the operations, reliability, and maintenance realm. His expertise includes change management, project development and management, training, and business process re-engineering. You can reach Dave at dberube@LCE.com.

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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