"Everyone wants to change humanity, and no one wants to change himself" - Lev Tolstoy
Employees who are open to change and willing to take action - change agents / change ambassadors - support the organisation in change. Their work is supported by the Change Agent Manifesto, a Strategic Manifesto. But even so, change ambassadors born from innovators often find themselves unsuitable to face the challenges that arise when trying to bring together the people and tools to support transformation. Change agents are not usually psychologists, masters of persuasion or trained facilitators. In managing transformation, they can often face serious difficulties if they encounter strong resistance within the organisation because others do not see the need for change.
What difficulties do they have to overcome to succeed? And what qualities do they need to acquire?
Challenges of a Change Ambassador 1 - Managing the ego
A person's self-esteem can often get in the way of vision fulfilment and progress. When a person's ego reaches a level that can no longer be controlled, it can manifest itself as arrogance, ignorance, pride, perhaps insecurity or jealousy. Egotists often believe they know everything, that they work harder, that they are smarter or better than others. They make excuses and blame others when things don't go as planned or expected.
Managing the change agent's own ego: If change agents have too much ego, over time they may find it difficult to gain credibility and trust with their colleagues - a problem because both are essential to building good relationships and successfully implementing a transformation. At the same time, if the opposite extreme occurs, i.e. these people show very low ego and self-reliance towards others, they can appear to lack self-confidence, which can hinder their long-term leadership potential. To be successful in supporting a transformation, change ambassadors must learn to put their ego and personal ambition aside. In this way, they can be humble and benevolent, which will enable them to 'break down' the egos of others and earn their trust and respect.
Dealing with colleagues' egos: Change agents are likely to encounter many colleagues whose egos prevent them from accepting new ideas that they did not invent. Egotists do not want to be wrong, tend to promote themselves and have strong support within the organisation. To successfully win the support of these colleagues, change ambassadors need to acknowledge their expertise, praise them and in some cases seek their advice as mentors.
Challenge of a Change Ambassador 2 - Managing fear
Fear can serve as a self-defence mechanism, as many people reject change because they believe it could challenge their status or position.
Addressing the change agent's own fear: Some reluctant ambassadors are either too afraid to embark on change or do not feel that the organisation is open to their ideas for transformation. In fact, fear of support in future may keep them from trying. But change agents need to trust their expertise and recognise that failure can lead to new learning and experience, and does not equate to failure for their company or their own career.
Addressing colleagues' fears: For many colleagues, change can seem risky at best, and a real disaster at worst, not only for their organisation but also for their own careers, and they may therefore hinder ambassadors' efforts out of fear. The best that change agents can do in this case is to communicate clearly that doing nothing, staying in the past, carries more risk than change. They need to reassure these colleagues that they and their managers will give them maximum support during and after the change.
Challenges for Change Ambassadors 3 - Tackling prejudice
Behavioural scientists and psychologists have identified in numerous studies the biases that prevent people from accepting new ideas and changes.
Now we show some of these biases.
Confirmation bias: This bias is the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their own assumptions or hypothesis, regardless of whether the information is true or not. It is also said that "we only see what we want to see".
Anchoring heuristic: It induces people to adopt a reference point in a given decision situation (anchoring themselves) and then to adapt their subsequent solution proposals to it, even if the chosen "solution" is not suitable for actually solving the problem. Factors influencing this bias may include mood, expertise, personality, cognitive abilities.
Groupthinking: Describes cases of consensus building, where individuals subordinate themselves and their own thoughts to real or assumed decisions accepted by the group, just to reach a consensus. The final decision of the group may be strongly influenced by individual group members who may even oppose the change.
Managing the ambassador's own biases: Like everyone, the change agent is affected by confirmation bias. They have ideas about how to implement change - and when others don't see the positive impact, change ambassadors tend to lose enthusiasm and become frustrated. They find it hard to understand why their colleagues don't want to change when it is clear that change is essential for progress. In such cases, change ambassadors need to put aside their preconceptions and focus on the potential for success, or surround themselves with someone with a different perspective.
Addressing colleagues' biases: Change agents are likely to encounter colleagues who recognise the changes sweeping through the organisation, but are disproportionately less aware of the solutions or opportunities offered by change ambassadors. Often, they are not aware of movements to transform their business because they do not believe that they have a direct impact on their work. They may resist change because other influential people in the organisation they look up to are also sceptical. Ambassadors need to be open to dialogue and disagreement and try to learn about others' positions and perspectives.
Challenges for Change Ambassadors 4 - Tackling self-doubt
Lack of self-confidence can easily paralyse a person. The fact that you don't have the knowledge to handle new things at first can often seem daunting. It is difficult to jump into the unknown, where there are no guidelines, standards, previous experience or even basic knowledge to rely on. And this feeling casts doubt on future success. Uncertainty can also stem from a lack of confidence rather than a lack of actual experience.
Dealing with the change agent's lack of confidence: While some ambassadors are alpha, others are too afraid of the judgement of others and therefore reluctant to initiate, coordinate and support change. To make progress, they must learn to work with those who oppose their ambitions and judgements, not to take opposition as a personal insult.
Addressing colleagues' lack of confidence: Digitalisation knowledge does not always spread within an organisation. Many colleagues know that the world is becoming increasingly digital, but they do not always understand the implications of this process for their organisation or even their work. They start to doubt themselves because of this. To manage colleagues' self-doubt, change ambassadors need to mentor colleagues, help them to acquire digital skills and encourage them to believe that they can be an active part of the organisation's transformation.
Change ambassadors face many challenges and they can sometimes feel alone. But they are on a promising path as their role goes well beyond supporting transformation/change by building an agile foundation for an advanced enterprise.