Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Is An Agent Of Change?

When you manage people, you are in it together.
And because you are the leader, you own all the outcomes, good and bad.
- Jack Welch

With the coming presidential election we've been hearing the word change used a lot. It's nothing new - it just seems to be ratcheted up because we're dealing with some extra hot issues this round. So..... what is this change stuff all about? Jack and Suzy Welch have an interesting perspective. In the October 20, 2008 Business Week WelchWay column, they are asked the following question by Anil Kale from Pune, India:

What kind of person is a change agent?

Jack and Suzy's answer is an interesting one. They start by saying that true change agents must have a single critical trait - power. They say most questions they get about change come from people deep within their organizations who have a burning desire to improve things and are frustrated with the organizational inertia in their way. They have good ideas, passion, dedication and hunger to be change agents but worry they cannot be.

Jack and Suzy go on saying by and large, change is still made by people with some sort of authority. It's driven by managers who have a platform to advocate for a new direction and the ability to hire, promote, and reward those who embace it. Change agents must be leaders to be effective - unfortunately - not all leaders are change agents.

Here's three other traits (besides power) that Jack and Suzy say are essential:

1. True change agents see a future no one else does, and that vision won't let them rest. They don't lead change because it "makes sense" or because change is "necessary." They lead change because they believe their organization must get ahead of an approaching "discontinuity" in order to survive and win. Typically, they've risen through the ranks because they've seen around corners before, and they're recognized for what they are, serial visionaries.

2. Change agents have the courage to bet their careers. True change agents are willing to take bold action - and accept the consequences. They know that leading change can be messy, with few clear-cut answers about how events will play out.

3. Change agents have something about them that galvanizes teams and turns people on. Perhaps the biggest misconception about change agents is that they're Lone Ranger types. In fact, the most effective change agents have a fervent core of supporters, cultivated through intensity and caring.

What's the business award? According to Jack and Suzy - for some change agents, it's the organization's survival. But for many others, it's not nearly as dire. It's growth, and all the good things that come with it: more and better jobs, new products, global expansion, not to mention their byproducts - excitement and fun.

True change agents have power, vision, bravery and support - Jack and Suzy say these people are rare - from my perspective I would agree.

Take a look at Jack and Suzy's Business Week piece here. You can also listen to a podcast titled True Change Agents, found on their website The Welch Way.

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