Change Agents Must Master Counterintelligence Tactics — Part 3 of 6

Posted on April 1st, 2016

NOTE: This is Part 3 of a planned 6-Part series. Link to Part 2.

Why do most change efforts of any substance within organizations fail? Why is failure so pervasive that most people are confident that they need only wait out the flurry of frenzied activity, often for no longer than the run-up to the next period financial report when everyone will be told to “drop everything else and make sure we get this nailed?”

Answer: Most “change agents” are completely and ignorantly unfamiliar with the “agents of change.” Everyone in a change environment is an agent of change. They are either working to promote change or they are working to obstruct it, consciously or not. The role of the change agent is to identify these agents of change, discover their intelligence, and leverage it to promote change. This is much like the work of a secret agent or government operative. Much like the superspy, the best change agent extracts and employs intel while blending into the landscape, escaping attention and suspicion.

So, who are these agents of change? We’ll find that out over the first five posts in this six-post series. In the final post, we’ll wrap it all together to offer some execution guidance. Last time, we discovered Agent 2 (click here for details). Let’s get right to discussion of the next agent, Agent 3 (A3) — The Change Optimizer.

Like Agent 2, A3 wants to promote change. However, A3 is focused on ensuring positive outcome of change. A3 wants better, not simply different. A3 takes the A2 “how this can work” and “what this will do” statements and filters them through goals and objectives at their highest level of organizational influence. A3 is motivated by meaningful, noticeable organizational improvement from a rationale that effective change is the only sustainable strategy to secure it.

A3 is known across the organization as a key player that gets things done, often in spite of long odds. They exude positive energy and tend to work well with others, brokering matrix deals to secure resources and commitments beyond their organizational power. This deal-making often plays out against the backdrop of deep content expertise, career tenure, and cross-functional capability. A3 is often not motivated by corporate politics despite their interpersonal dexterity. In fact, A3 is often the face of challenges to sacred cows, fiefdoms, and turf boundaries. They can be easily detected by reasoned, level-headed promotion of change almost always supported by facts and data that present pros and cons sufficiently. Best of all, they help the organization, more than anyone else, decide what change to pursue. A3 does this not by poo-pooing change initiatives, but by giving stakeholders a realistic expectation, thereby enabling them to stop low impact or non-essential efforts early. A3 is an able analyst but does not get paralyzed by the process.

The biggest mistake made by Change Agents when dealing with A3? Over-reaction to complaints from the enterprise against A3. A3 naturally makes stakeholders uncomfortable in early stages of change. While stakeholders can tune out the drama and emotion of both A1 and A2, A3 offers a position that must be dealt with. The facts and data provided are often threatening to status quo, making stakeholders entrench until more clarity of the future state can address their “What’s in it for me?” concerns. A3 needs unwavering backing and support from Change Agents. Take care when exposing them too early to executive stakeholders who wield subjective interests and power. The Change Agent will often be directly accountable to one or more of these constituents and must be aware of managing expectations in a manner that doesn’t question allegiances.

So, how does a change agent leverage A3?

As early in the analyze stage of change as possible, begin to use the facts and data developed by A2 as expectation boundaries for the messages being delivered by the “spokesagent” (A2). It is extremely important, due to the political discomfort often associated with A3, that care be taken to prevent them from being linked to the formal seat of change at this stage. Make sure to give them all of the resources needed for sound, on-going analysis, including access to necessary people and data. Make sure that all A1 intel is immediately passed to A3. However, do everything possible to prevent A3 from probing for information or data directly from A1. In some situations, this is impossible to avoid so have contingency communication plans in place to cover this eventuality.

As the change lifecycle progresses, use A3 increasingly in interactions with executive stakeholders. As change advances, facts and data become greater sources of comfort because involved parties are more keenly interested in managing outcomes and impacts. This can expedite a natural transition of the “spokesagent” role form A2 to A3. A3 should remain engaged in analysis and communication throughout the remainder of the engagement.

Next time, Agent 4.