Finding the Right Champion for Change

Change is HARD. As a matter of fact, I often say “technology is easy, but people are hard.” You can guess the reaction I get from technology-focused individuals when I make this statement. For an organization to grow, be successful, compete, and embrace technology and new processes, change is required.

There are many excuses given for why IT fails to focus on driving change in their organization and across the enterprise? Here are just a few:

  1. Change is not my job. I am here to deliver technology, not drive change in the enterprise.
  2. Change is opaque. People are not binary. They have feelings, opinions, and agendas. I do not know how to alter things like mindsets.
  3. Change is hard to quantify. I can’t tell if change is happening or if I’m making progress toward a desired end state.

Yes, change is hard and often overlooked by IT organizations. But it is required for technology and process adoption and therefore requires dedication in the form of a champion.

Change without a champion is likely to fail.

What Does a Champion for Change Do?

A successful champion for any change initiative performs the following 4 functions:

  1. Highlight the need for change. A champion should expose weaknesses and build dissatisfaction with the status quo. Facts should be their friend and should be used to support the need to change. A champion makes it clear there is good reason for WHY the organization needs to change.
  2. Identify the vision. A champion describes WHAT will be better in the future, and HOW a given initiative will take the organization from current state to future state. The WHAT and HOW need to be congruent with the WHY from the previous function.
  3. Listen to others. A champion must have a vision and define potential solutions which enable the vision, but they must also listen to feedback and incorporate others’ ideas and concerns. This feedback may impact the WHAT and the HOW.
  4. Find followers. A champion without buy-in from others will not be successful. Followers may include subordinates, peers, and superiors from across the organization. A champion must attract early adopters, much like the “Dancing Guy” in this video:

What Makes a Great Champion for Change?

The champion does not have to be the person who comes up with the original idea, but should be the one who will stick it out until the vision is realized. The following attributes describe an ideal champion:

  • Passionate and persistent. Passion is often overlooked; however, passion is contagious and required for change to happen. The champion is persistent and unlikely to give up because they believe passionately in the change.
  • Trusted and respected. Trust and respect are derived from integrity, intent, capabilities, and results. The champion will not be successful if they are not trusted and respected by those who need to be on board with the change.
  • Understands the impact of the change. The champion must communicate the vision and solutions they are advocating. At the same time, they must show empathy for how the change will impact others.
  • Able to influence. Influence is the capacity of a person to be a compelling force on the actions or opinions of others. For a champion to be successful, they can’t do it alone. Champions must be abler to influence others, including stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Able to build momentum: Communicating every win, both large and small, builds momentum and increases the likelihood of others buying in based on the perception of concrete success.
  • Comfortable with failure: Failure is part of the journey. A great champion will learn, adjust, and not lose sight of the vision. Above all, the champion must not be deterred by failure.

The change initiative we’re working on with Amica Insurance has a fantastic champion who meets all the criteria described above. She recognized a need and continues to help drive change in the organization. Learn more: How Amica Reshaped Its IT Processes: An Agile Adoption Case Study

Change is possible, with an effective change agent. Choose your champion wisely!

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