Managing and reinforcing a change is hard enough, but think about the additional challenges that are presented when your Organizational Change Management (OCM) resource does not have a daily on-site presence. This scenario seems to become more and more common in the midst of budget cuts, distribution of organizations across multiple states or countries, and in my most recent project: the client's inability to find local talent.
I was assigned to an IT implementation project within a manufacturing environment. The effort would support regulatory compliance and improve efficiencies through upgrades to both technology and business processes. Much of my stakeholder audience had long-standing tenure with the company, and I anticipated a high level of resistance.
Given the high visibility of the project and my lack of industry experience, I truly appreciated the client's confidence in my skillset – especially when the project would result in significant business process, technology, and cultural changes. My OCM expertise and the breadth of change, however, were not what concerned me; it was the fact that these changes would be implemented across multiple geographic locations, and it would be my first experience managing change from afar. To further complicate the situation, the majority of my stakeholders do not have network or email access, and I would need to rely on more "old fashion" vehicles to communicate with this audience.
The endeavor I describe rarely gave me the opportunity to observe my stakeholders' processes first-hand or gain credibility with face-to-face interaction. I quickly realized that my success would depend on partnerships with "local support" that possessed the knowledge and credibility I lacked. Some people call these partners change agents. Others call them change champions or change enablers. (I once read an article that referred to them as miracle workers!) Regardless, my support network represented stakeholders from varying levels and departments, and they provided alternate avenues for communication and support as we, together, guided their organization through the change continuum.
To ensure that messages remained consistent and accurate, I provided the content and materials, while the change agents offered their voice. Whether it was a deck, a newsletter, or general announcement, the change agents shared the project information they received from me and encouraged conversations (surrounding the project). I saw this happening at all levels of the organization, but I was especially impressed by the participation of the "lower level" change agents; they were an essential link between their peers, management, and the project team - supporting both awareness and understanding of the forthcoming changes, and how they would benefit both them and the company.
The change agents also collected feedback and questions. Their support helped me to better understand the end-user perspective, and I was able to utilize their communications channels (e.g., team meetings, one-off discussions, etc.) to relay accurate responses. Their growing project knowledge also positioned the change agents to participate in user acceptance testing and collaborate on the right training strategy. I found them leading discussions in training classes, and they were the ones helping to reinforce the new processes and technology at go-live. With their help, they created the buy-in and ownership that we needed to make the project successful.
Mobilization of a change network is a basic concept within most change management theories; however, it wasn't until I worked on this project that I truly appreciated their contributions. My time with this client spanned three releases over a 14 month period, and I relied on the change network's support more and more over time. I learned that working with change agents is one of the best ways to build relationships with your stakeholders, and the most effective way to manage change from afar.