Recently on the Change Management Professionals LinkedIn Group, Graeme Bowman asked the question (paraphrased) “what is the difference between a change agent and a change manager?”  It was a good question coming from Graham – he’s one of life’s ‘accidental’ change communicators. A hoax comedian and corporate comedian he is often brought in to introduce some of the C-suite’s key changes in an amusing and sometimes disarming way!

The answers from the group produced some interesting insights. The change manager is most often the person charged with introducing the change and made responsible for its success. I’ve provided a couple of posts previously on the definition of change managers.

The change agent however as the participants in the discussion saw it, is the initiator of change  — the person who introduces and champions the new idea. Additionally, the change agent is responsible for taking the activity into Business As Usual (e.g. post change activity).

Everett Rogers in his change bible The Diffusion of Innovations (1962) describes a change agent, as ‘an individual who influences client’s innovation –decisions in a direction deemed desirable by a change agency’. Critically, ‘the change agent not only seeks to obtain the adoption of new ideas, but may also attempt to slow down diffusion and prevent the adoption of undesirable innovations’. (p. 28). Further, in contrast to the ideas above of the change agent as part of the business, Rogers saw the change agent as being different to the client (eg. by experience, education and social system)

Charles Hardman provided a fascinating example of change capability building by distributed change agents in a previous organisation:

… We consciously made every employee an ‘agent of change’ and including ‘change’ as a key result area on everyone’s performance reviews. Our view was that every employee was responsible for solutions. 

I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily how it all worked in practice, but it did allow us to be very clear with our expectations; whilst providing the opportunity to every employee to make things better. i.e. employee engagement. 

Likewise, we had no long-term appointed change managers – rather we had people who had a ‘manage change’ key result area

It’s an interesting approach – one that would require significant change maturity within the business.

So what your thoughts? How do you define a change agent within your organisation?

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