The Enabling Conditions of an Effective Change Agent
31st January 2022

The Enabling Conditions of an Effective Change Agent

6 minute read

Takeaway: OTM recognizes a total of 12 enabling conditions, yet 4 of which are crucial for enabling a Change Agent to act as an Integrated Free Radical. Change agents must be able to move freely, gaining support and commitment for the change, and ultimately facilitate a robust change effort that remains sustainable. 

For Change Agents to be effective, there are some fundamental conditions that must be in place. This is the essential groundwork that needs to be done as part of the integrated change readiness strategy.

Our experience has taught us without intentional effort to align the work, role, and incentives of the Change Agent, they quickly become passive, disempowered, and disengaged (some describe it to us as “bored”). Sure, they might attend data governance or people rep meetings, but how strong is the fire in the belly? When they make effort to contribute, how strong is their voice heard, listened to, and acted upon?

In our 33 years’ experience there are 12 key conditions, of which 4 are summarised below:

  1. Gain unwavering support and commitment from business leaders to utilise internal Organisation Design services and Change Agents over external partners.
  2. Define what is and what is not a Change Agent within the business. Is it an execution only/pair of hands just-do-what-you-are-told-to-do role or is it truly a role which can impact the design decisions and influence real change?
  3. Design the organisation design Change Agent role as a “free radical” ensuring the job has both the capacity and tools to do the work.
  4. Think beyond go-live: align the incentives of the Change Agent to remain active and visible. A practical example is to ensure they contribute to key mechanisms beyond their immediate function and as part of the wider cross-functional change readiness approach. Give them a platform for their voice to be heard on key business issues.

Blogs (12)

The integrated free radical must be given a license to expose weaknesses, tensions, and conflicts, and not be encouraged to find or engineer workarounds or sugar coat issues.

Traditionally, Change Agent roles are either withdrawn or become very passive once a “go-live” date has been achieved. OTM’s wisdom across close to 500+ redesigns and 33+ years of doing this work, is that there is and must be a life beyond go-live for change agents.

Sounds obvious, and you might be reading this thinking “yep, we have super-users still, and our process and data stewards meet regularly”. But how active, engaged, and influential are they 30, 60 or 90 days after go-live? What about 12 months after?

Integrating Change Agents to Accelerated Change Readiness (ACR)

OTM’s ACR approach is defined as an integrated, holistic, and systematic approach to planned change that:

  1. Ensures the intentional and deliberate renewal and adaptation of human and social systems [people and culture] to technical changes in the immediate environment. ACR seamlessly integrates technical changes with people issues to achieve desired end states and ROI.
  2. Facilitates the implementation of business initiatives (changes in strategy, new processes, technology systems, etc.) while achieving fast, flexible, and sustainable results through commitment rather than compliance.
  3. Makes certain change is dealt with from start to finish nearly guaranteeing the realisation of ROI.
  4. Defines the next generation of project management while mitigating traditional pitfalls, errors and risks associated with project implementation

Blogs (13)

ACR is built on the premise that workforces want a say in how their organisations will change. As a result, leaders must adapt their change management strategies, understanding that change is less about instilling a new set of rules and more about the evolution of an organisation’s operations and culture.

The most successful application of Change Agents in an ACR approach is as a continuous integrated network of roles that help the business to sense change and be proactive, rather than the traditional application of installing these roles to react to a change in a compressed time period.

Top down vs. ACR

This also means that the Change Agent plays an influential part in helping the business measure benefit realisation. This is a fundamental link to enabling condition #1; an external partner is rarely the person who holds the business to account on translating the change to real benefits. This opportunity is ripe for a Change Agent.

A Change Agent has emotional investment in the business, they care about the impact of change beyond process measures (e.g., did we deliver to time and budget). They can and should be given creative license to hold the sponsoring leader to account on the real measurable outcomes and impact and avoid what we often see and hear as the “blackhole of benefit realisation”.

Getting to Grips with How You Use Change Agents

The role of the Change Agent needs to evolve way beyond the legacy of the one closest to the change context, the super-user, the sounding board, the passer-on of information, or the one connected with the frontline with an ear to the ground.

It is the wider context of the change strategy that is most influential to this, adopting a Change Readiness approach in replace of traditional change management that is top-down and often stops once a poor definition of “done” is ticked – where busyness takes a hold, and the business moves on to the next change before this one has been fully embedded.

Change should be measured on how behaviours have changed, and meaningful results and benefits are being realised. Change is not “done” when the Gantt chart is ticked, or a polished slide deck sent to everyone.

In our extensive experience, no change is done until there is meaningful behaviour change. And we have seen how effective Change Agents can be when they are able to act as an integrated free radical as part of a holistic change readiness strategy.

Read part 1 of this blog series to learn more: Challenges of the Modern Change Agent.

Missed part 2? Find it here.


Chris Furnell is a Consultant at ON THE MARK. 

OTM is the leading global boutique organization design consultancy with offices in the USA and UK. With over 450 successful redesigns and operating model modernizations completed, OTM is the owner of the industry’s most integrated, comprehensive, and holistic organization design solution. OTM enables its clients to realize their future ambitions.

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