Creating change champions in your organization

26 June, 2013 - 08:45
The use of champions to implement change in organizations spans nearly five decades. Emma Murphy takes us through the 8 steps needed to launch a successful network of champions.

By Emma Murphy

There are numerous benefits to creating a network of champions to support your change effort. Identifying change champions in each division or team affected by the change is an approach that can prove highly successful for embedding and sustaining change within an organization. However, it is vitally important that organizations select and train the right people to act as change champions. The role of a change champion is very important because these individuals will be helping to manage the inevitable ambiguity and uncertainty associated with implementing change. Additional benefits include:

  • Reducing the pressure on the centralized team to deliver change;
  • Identifying issues on the ground and raising them quickly to the project team;
  • Gathering feedback on the communications campaign and feedback to the change team;
  • Identifying key resistors of change;
  • Assisting with managing resistance to change amongst their colleagues;
  • Becoming super users and therefore assist in training of users.

It is important to note that change champions are not the same as change agents who are trained specialists in organisational change management. On every project I have worked on we have established a network of change champions to support the change effort and to ensure that once the project is completed, the changes are sustained. The network of champions should ideally be launched in the early project stages to ensure the champions can get up to speed and start to support the project team as quickly as possible. Here are some key steps to take to help you to set up your own network of change champions inside the organisation.

1. Define the role and responsibilities for the change champions

Before setting up the network of change champions the project team needs to be clear about what they are expecting from the change champions. If there are any skill gaps then the project team can plan to fill those gaps with training sessions as required throughout the project.

Example role and responsibilities:

  • Understand the change the impact on employees;
  • Understand the key project milestones and timeline;
  • Attend project meetings as required;
  • Assist with disseminating project Communications;
  • Attend focus group sessions to prepare for testing and training;
  • Participate in UAT testing;
  • Attend classroom based training and participate in e-learning training before users;
  • Become super users of system X;
  • Understand the capability of their colleagues and suggest extra training as required;
  • Provide ongoing support to colleagues Post Go Live;
  • Support new joiners with e-learning training.

2. Define the criteria for selecting change champions

In order to select change champions it is helpful to have a list of criteria so that the relevant management layer can decide which of their employees to volunteer as change champions.

Example criteria:

  • Has worked at organisation ABC for more than 2 years;
  • Has availability to attend project meetings and training sessions as required;
  • Be able to translate the overall change vision for their division/team;
  • Act as a positive role model for the project;
  • Able to provide timely feedback to the project team;
  • Be charismatic and influential;
  • Be trusted and respected by colleagues and seen as a ‘go to’ person;
  • Be able to recognise resistance to change and be supportive to their colleagues.

3. Provide an overview to the leadership/management team

When asking management to volunteer their resources as change champions, it is useful to present the criteria and roles and responsibilities to enable them to make faster decisions on which employees to involve as champions. This will also ensure that the management team are on-board and supportive of the champion network. As a change agent it is essential to sell the benefits of a change champion network and to answer any questions and concerns from the management team. In addition, the change agent should discuss how they plan to reward the champions – e.g. monetary rewards/prizes from the project budget, project award nominations for outstanding change champion contribution etc.

4. Ask the management team to volunteer change champions

After the overview session, provide a mechanism and a deadline for the management team to submit their change champion nominees. The change agent should manage this process and prepare the supporting communication to ensure the management team has been sent the information relating to the role, criteria and deadline for selecting the champions.

5. Conduct a kick off/training session for the change champions

It will be helpful for the champions to set up a ½ day session to explain their role in more detail and the expectations for how the project team and the champions will work together. In addition, conducting an overview of Change Management to teach them some key principles of the psychology of change, communications, resistance management and training would provide a good solid foundation of knowledge so they are more prepared to deal with the change.

6. Agree on the collaboration methods

It is important to establish how the champions should collaborate with the project team and each other, for example you could create a collaborative workspace on your company intranet for champions to download useful project info and also to share stories and give feedback. This will increase their engagement with the project team and other champions as they will feel part of a team and have a voice. In addition, there should be some face to face meetings/conference calls arranged once a month/quarter to keep the champions updated on project progress and upcoming activities which will impact employees – the champions must always be one step ahead of employees so they are prepared to respond to questions from their colleagues.

7. Communicate the launch of the champions’ network

Ensure that the organization is aware of the change champion network by providing contact details, a photo and ways to communicate with them. In addition, ensure that the launch communication includes how the change champions will support the organisation during the change. Ideally this message will come from the project sponsor or a senior leader to ensure the importance of the network can be expressed with senior leadership support.

8. Reward and recognise the change champions

One of the risks of becoming a change champion is that the organisation will continue to value and reward champions solely for their regular job duties, which they continue to perform. If this additional role is not recognised, valued, and rewarded, it will be difficult to persuade anyone to continue in the role even though it is occasional. Conversely, if a high value is placed on the role, the number of change champions will continue to increase, which should produce substantial benefits to the organisation.

A well-supported network of change champions can make a huge difference to ensuring sustainable outcomes for the organisation. In addition, the network will empower a small but influential team of individuals to extend the change management strategy to the local level so that every individual in the organization can understand and embrace the change. 

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Case Study - Champions of Change

A large Government department was rolling out a new knowledge management system across 5000 employees that were geographically dispersed. It was impossible for the change management team to work closely with all those impacted so they asked the Division Heads to select individuals to join a Change Champions Network. The network was comprised of employees from across the organisation who served as extensions of the change management team as “on-the-ground” champions to support their colleagues and be the “eyes and ears” for the change management team.

The change management team provided the champions with on-going project updates, information and tips which they shared with their colleagues. Periodic meetings and conference calls allowed change champions to connect with each other and exchange ideas about how to build commitment, as well as keeping the change management team informed about issues and major areas of resistance that required attention.

In addition, the change champions assisted with rehearsals for training and Go Live, helping the change management team to iron out issues and preempt likely areas of resistance during implementation. The champions then became super users of the new system and were the go to people within their division during the Go Live and the post implementation support phase of the project. 

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About Emma Murphy

Emma Murphy is the founder of The Change Source which supports change management professionals, project managers, leaders, managers and employees to successfully implement and sustain change within their organisations.

For the past decade she has worked with a wide range of multifaceted clients across a range of industries. Her experience includes working on large scale transformational projects to embed new ways of working including: new systems, processes and behaviours. Her clients include: Shell, NHS, Department for Work and Pensions (UK), Telstra, Trend Micro, Transport for London, The National Bank of Abu Dhabi and the Department for Municipal Affairs (Abu Dhabi).

She is a certified trainer in Prosci’s Change Management Methodology has an MBA from London Business School.

You can connect with her via:

www.twitter.com/thechangesource

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