The Role of a Change Champion: a Wonder Horse or a Donkey Derby?



Jon Ward
01/10/2012

This is not the story of a Wonder Horse but the way in which wholesale change in a business environment can be effective across the lifecycle of any change project. At the outset, the need is recognised to have business colleagues involved in the changes ahead and to define how this might actually take place. Questions are always asked about how much internal resource is necessary to make a successful change happen - and also what would be the role of this resource.

Following any project methodology, a Project Board/Steering Committee is created, comprising senior leaders from across the business - it’s safe to say that this will engage the business at the highest level. Board members' roles are well defined and documented but will include:

  • Being an advocate of change
  • Defining the future strategy of the business (where we are going to)
  • Owning and balancing the conflicts between standing still and moving forwards (Business As Usual vs. project)
  • Clearing the path for change (risk and issue management) and
  • Committed to the project outcomes (owning the future)

This is all well, good and necessary but those senior colleagues don’t live the processes day by day. Such colleagues do not see the warts on the existing way their transactional processing team-members do things; nor do they baby-sit the transactions every day to make sure they get to the correct end-goal. If we are to move the change experience forward in the correct direction, the project needs access to some of those who "live" the ways of working, who have the relevant battle scars from fighting in the trenches but who have the gravitas and gusto to challenge what is happening.

We need people who can look around and challenge us to ensure we do look for improvements, we do remove the need for sticking plasters and we do get the support from all of the foot soldiers within the business. We cannot treat these as cannon fodder that fall during the charge to a better place. We need to embed a support function in the trenches that works as a two-way conduit ensuring all voices are heard and the reasons for changes are understood.

The "Change Champion" therefore fulfils a variety of tasks, and needs to have at their disposal a deep and varied tool kit.

Ownership

The Champion needs to have been given clear responsibilities and a framework to operate in. All decisions affecting that process/team as well as an assessment of the issues/risks must be understood. The Champion must be able to confidently take the new ways of working and understand how/who it impacts along with determining how to make it work.

Trust

Most definitely, this is a two-way thing. By assigning the Champion role to an experienced business resource along with all the responsibilities, the project has placed trust in this person. The Champion then needs to gain the confidence of the rest of the team or co-workers, as their future roles and ways of working are often in the hands of that person. They must believe the Champion is balancing their interests along with the businesses needs, and that their voice is being heard.

Knowledge

The Champion not only knows what happens at the moment but also recognises the constraints of the processes, the pinch-points, the good bits and the downright bad parts the users all love to hate. The Champion knows where the "noise" is in the process that prevents his/her colleagues from doing their roles; which of their customers/suppliers to the process aid or hinders their day job; and how such risk needs to be mitigated. He/she also understand the implication of changing processes: who and what would be affected together with the size of the challenges in front of them, both internal and external to the process.

Team Player

An over used phrase but the Champion is a key player in at least three teams, namely the

  • Project Leadership team;
  • Process User team; and the
  • Cross-functional Change Champion team.

Deciding which team the Change Champion is first pick for is a difficult call as they need to be full-time, first draft for all three. No one said this would be easy.

Drive

The Champion will face a new kind of challenge, challenges they have probably not been used to in their previous day job. There will be knocks - and although there will be highs, in the short term the lows will be more frequent. The big highs come further down the journey when all the hard work, the door-banging, the reworking, all deliver the end-goal. The Champion needs to be able to take knocks, to get through one challenge successfully and get ready almost straight away for another. The Champion must keep going, be driven to that end goal and be part of a supportive network that takes them riding along on a wave of passion for the successful outcome of the project.

Communication

A key part of any project member is communication - the Champion is no different, although if anything communication is core to the role. The Champion is a conduit for both formal and informal communication and these messages need to come from and go to the Champion. The direction will be from the top, from across the organisation and probably most importantly UP the organisation.

All those who use the existing processes must understand what’s happening now, what’s actually going to change, and the impacts therein. More importantly they need the confidence that the solution has been designed, influenced and created by one of their own and not delivered to them by management or - even worse - an all knowing consultant!

Across the project team, communication must flow as sharing knowledge and experiences eases the journey. Knowing others are sharing the same issues and solutions makes life far easier to handle. Although working practices in purchasing may find no truck in sales at least we are unlocking the potential for greater thought.

Top-down communication through the Champions ensures the messages are delivered timely and are not watered down, and allows for the feedback loop as the champion is trusted by both parties: the troops and the leaders. This feedback needs to be heard and should be acted upon otherwise the trust embedded in this role will quickly dissipate.

Early Warning System

The Champion needs to know when to shut up but also make sure he/she is heard as well. These Champions are the eyes and ears within the project - as the processes are being designed, such Champions need to challenge openly if there are risks and issues that cannot be easily managed.

They need to ensure that the

  • solution continues to meet the business requirement;
  • future end users are capable of running the solution;
  • service providers and customers are aware of the new world and the new/revised requirements on them;
  • speed of delivery is correct and fit for purpose; and
  • hand-offs across the process/project fit and are achievable.

This is really an amalgamation of knowledge, communication and trust but is the trigger to ensure everyone is joined up.

The Future

There is a long-term advantage of having a team of Champions as even when the project has ended there will still be further benefits to be claimed. Continuous Process Improvements will become the norm as you will have created this network of champions that will continue this cycle.

They will be almost self-supporting in their striving for more efficiency and effectiveness within the process and business as they will never be happy for any length of time with the status quo. They will have experienced the New World solution they created. They will conceive a future with tweaks and amendments and they will then want to create it.

Once created, this new world is then experienced, further ideas conceived and so the cycle of continuous improvement continues for the benefit of all.

Summary

Do we have the necessary resource in house? The answer must be yes.

Will it be difficult to take them out of the day job? Yes - but doing nothing is not an option.

Do we know how much time we need this resource for or how many? Probably more than we can easily release. The more that can be freed up the better.

Do we want to deliver a sub optimal solution because it removes some of the short-term pain? Hopefully not.

Are we asking for too much here? Do these people really exist? I think we can see the Champion is a mixture of many people with some traits from the likes of Kofi Annan, Jack Bauer, Simba the lion, Denise Lewis and David Attenborough. They need to be many things. We need to review our resources and challenge peoples’ comfort zones to release these champions for the long term good of the organisation.

Yes, there will be some short-term pain for all but - as in all good westerns - the guy in the white hat wins through. So maybe we are looking for a Wonder Horse and his side kick Rebel after all!