Role of a Change Agent
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Keywords: internal change agent, change agents types
The role as a change agent has to be understood based on the processes of organizational change. The organization will go through planned change, which Lewin's model states that they will first experience unfreezing of old methods and thinking (Lakomski, 2001). After which would be moving, where the shifting of the organization's behaviour begins through restructuring. Lastly refreezing, this is where new behaviours, cultures and assumptions are being stabilized.
Jonathan (2010, p49) states: "Ryan (1996) developed a seven-step practical intervention plan that managers can utilize in being an agent for change: Setting a new leadership style to a "participative leadership", creating a shared vision for quality results, establishing process improvement through department teams, fostering employee buy-in through empowered work teams, specifying measurements to observe systems in action, incorporating leadership and teamwork-skills training and continuous improvement through ongoing feedback and review." This will be helpful guidelines for change agents who have been task with organization change.
The two types of change agents are internal and external. Morrison (2003, p124) states "Examples of internal change agents are corporate board members, CEOs, executives, managers, and others in an organization's work force. External change agents include investors, suppliers, community activists, government regulators and even consumers."
Internal change agents usually comes from either the human resource department or top level management and they have a huge role to play in the restructuring of an organization. Challenges internal change agent face are having to ensure that they do not get affected by other people's power games, as they would have knowledge of the internal politics. They will also have to convince others that they have the necessary skills and expertise that will effectively contribute to the organizational change that has been task to them instead of having the company engage an external consultant, which results in cost saving as well. Connecting with the influential people in the company of different departments is also an essential factor as they can be the internal change agent's key points of influence to the organization as a whole (Choi, 2011). Therefore the selection of the internal change agents is very critical and have to be chosen wisely. The reason being that change involves the participation of the employees. Therefore, when trust is given to the change agent by employees as they have been working in the company for years, it is easier to build the ownership of the new idea and implementation. This is something that an external change agent will be at disadvantage and will have to spend time breaking barriers with employees. (Schumacher, 2008)
An example of an internal change agent is Erico Tadashi Yamamoto Chief, Information Officer and Chief Process Officer of Maritima Seguros. In 1993, Yamamoto was hired into the company as a junior systems analyst. Between the period of 2002 and 2005, was when Yamamoto was implementing new changes and efficiency measures (O'Donnell, 2008). Having Yamamoto as an internal change agent has its added advantage, reason being Yamamoto had worked his way from bottom up. This alone would garner enough respect from his employees and there is a certain level of trust that is gained because Yamamoto was once an operations staff as well. As O'Donnell (2008) states Yamamoto noted on communication being his greatest challenge: "To convince the company to change its business model, I have to evolve my communication skills as well as my management and financial acumen". A good internal change agent has to learn and understand the employees well in order to make the change in the organization not just a temporal change, but one that is sustainable in the long run. This is unlike an external change agent, where their task is considered once changes have been implemented. The organization will then have to depend on itself to stabilize the changes that has been implemented.
External change agents are often consultants that are being hired based on their expertise and portfolio that they have. They are often being hired because the top management feels that there isn't any suitable or capable people within the organization to be appointed as internal change agents and thus the outsource hiring of experienced consultants. However, Stevens (2001, p47) states: "Arguments for the use of external agents outnumber those against. Glaser (1965), in an early field experiment, showed that organizations could be made more receptive to research results through the use of external consultants". Based on that, external change agents have the advantage of being objective to analyze and examine the various cultures, practices and mindsets that are within the organization. This is something that an internal change agent, being in an organization for such a long period of time might tend to overlook and employees will feel that internal change agents may have a biased view towards certain issues. External change agents also has an added advantage of committing all their time to the task that is given to them. This is unlike internal change agents, where they have to be concern about the daily operations of the company as well as implementing the different changes in the organization.
An example of an external change agent is Bill Krivoshik of Time Warner who was being brought in as Senior Vice President (SVP) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). As Schneidermeyer (2001) states: " the media and entertainment conglomerate was looking for an IT exec that had it all--interpersonal skills, strong tech-management ability, and in-depth experience with shared services--to lead an initiative to provide IT support to all of Time Warner's businesses, including TBS and Time". By hiring Bill Krivoshik and giving him the position of SVP and CIO, the organization was not just hiring an external change agent to come in for a stipulated period of time and then leave after change has been implemented and stabilized. They wanted to bring in someone to be able to make a change and Bill Krivoshik can easily gain the respect of the employees in the organization because of his position in the company and the vast experience that he has gained from working in previous companies.
In my opinion, there is no definite deduction that having an internal change agent is better than having an external change agent, vice versa. The is because different organizations have different needs and some organizations have very capable management internally, that might be able to restructure and implement new changes in the company and the quality might be on par with an external change agent. Choosing either an internal or external change agent will depend on the organization and the situation it is in.
There have been joint projects where the change in an organization is done by both internal and external change agents concurrently. An example will be "The Teaching Company Scheme", where the Teaching Company employs interns to take part in a certain project. The intern is considered a change agent on a daily basis, he is under supervision from his industrial and academic superior which does the project control and planning process respectively. The Teaching Company Directorate consultant helps out in the planning process and as a mediator (Peattie, 1993). Companies benefits in participating in the scheme as they will have both an internal and external change agent assisting their organization concurrently.
In conclusion, we can see that there both advantages and disadvantages for using either an internal or external change agent. An internal agent may not be as objective as an external agent, however the costs incurred by hiring an external agent might cause more harm than good to an organization. Adding on to that, external agents often have more experience in different specialization and their knowledge will come in useful as compared to an internal agent who might only have knowledge in one or two aspect. Having said that, internal agents generally have the advantage of having relationships and rapport that have been build over the years, and external agent have a short time frame to compensate for that loss in building relationships and seeing through the underlying issues within the organization. As Fullan (2001, p187) states : "internal development and external involvement must go together". The ideal change will require both an internal and external change agent to work together, combining their knowledge and experience which will greatly benefit an organization restructure.
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