From time to time, on account of market or other global business requirements and in order to achieve internal production and financial efficiencies, businesses implement strategic large-scale change initiatives for growth and sustainability. I currently have the privilege of consulting for a large multi-national company who is undergoing such a change. The company, in a couple of the almost fifty countries in which it operates, instituted a brand new information technology platform, designed to enhance its user-interface, reporting and customer service processes and implemented new business system rules to ensure company sustainability into the future. What was potentially overlooked, however, was the impact of the implementation on employees – some of the staff complement who had been with the company for many years now feeling incompetent, resulting in a lack of confidence; others digging in their heels and wanting to still perform some of the functions on the old system, even though obsolete; some employees expressing their frustrations to customers and blaming the new system for slow service, etc. Having “gone live” in two countries and observing the negative people impact, the chief operating officer wisely called for assistance with the change management aspects of the rest of the project and change champions were appointed.

The change champion’s role is to become an early adopter of the change process and accelerate the implementation of the change amongst colleagues, getting their early buy-in to the project. This decreases the time taken to get everyone on board and saves the company time, money and further effort (faster implementation). The change champion is a current staff member who already excels at his/her role and is now given the additional responsibility of becoming one of the leaders in the change project. After adequate and relevant training, the change champion becomes:

  • An integral part of the strategic communication efforts in relation to the impending change
  • One who sensitises colleagues as to the benefits of the change
  • Instructor prior to “go live”, developing people’s skills
  • Coach during the implementation to enhance performance
  • Empathiser, showing understanding of and care for people during the change
  • Problem-solver with reference to pockets of resistance
  • Encourager, to solicit participation from everyone
  • Feedback-giver, to senior management, as to progress being made

Of course, the change champions need to be developed to fulfil the above roles, but the training they receive not only becomes beneficial for personal development, but can also prove to be the first steps in developing future leadership for the company.

Most authors and researchers on the change subject matter seem to agree that there are fundamentally three phases of growth in support for the change:

  1. Conceptual (“hearing it”) Phase – awareness of the change gets generated and employees know that the change is coming. At this stage, there is probably little understanding of how the change will affect them individually and as a team. There might be anxiety amongst some people or even apathy amongst others.
  2. Superficial (“believing it”) Phase – acceptance of the change takes root, understanding develops and some employees might even get to the place where they feel that they can defend the change – point out why the change is necessary.
  3. Emotional and Personal (“living it”) Phase – embracing the change where it is personalised, utilised and internalised. Employees become ready to promote the change and start viewing it as part of the development of the new organisational culture. Some employees reach the level of passionate advocacy, where they relate everything they do to the promotion and establishment of the change.

The above three phases could stretch over a considerable period of time unless there are change champions to accelerate the organisation through the various phases.

Change in organisations inevitably produces resistance, especially when legislated, with compliance officers ensuring alignment. Change champions are the strategic advantage to effective large-scale or radical change processes – they not only encourage buy-in from employees, but also significantly reduce the time necessary for effective project implementation.

Free To Grow offers the workshop Change@Work for the development of Change Champions

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