Characteristics of a Change Agent

In a recent consulting engagement, I had to go through 6 (!) rounds of interviews before I was offered the position as a transformation leader. Each interview was with a different critical stakeholder, and the one interview that stood out the most for me was interview #4. The senior vice president, who was almost 10 minutes late to a half hour interview because of critical fires he was trying to put out, started by asking me a specific, pointed question:

Are you willing to fail?

It turned out that the project I was being asked to lead was a critical transformation project. He felt that the client’s culture had not yet reached the tipping point to make the case for change, nor did the leadership recognize that the change had to happen now. So, his litmus test of whether I was a true change agent was whether I was willing to step into the fray, knowing that I might not be successful in implementing the change I was being asked to lead.

Change agents need to be courageous and be willing to step into the unknown, even if that means they may make a misstep or two along the way.

What I have learned from this executive is an excellent question to ask as I embark on any new change initiative. While my goal is never to fail (and we specifically created the wHolistic ChangeSM approach to avoid pitfalls and set people up for success in implementing corporate change), as leaders we should ask at the beginning of each project whether our change team members have the mindset that we are embarking on something new and are willing to learn and adjust and grow along the way.

As we have said before, you can correct the change if you created strong sponsorship, a solid communication plan, a continuous improvement feedback loop, and built contingency into the deployment. Equally important, though, is preparing your change agents for performing activities that may not be successful the first try, and supporting them through failure until they achieve success!

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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