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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

How to be a change agent in your organization

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At the end of every class that I teach, I ask my students to stand and let me deputize them to be a change agent — not only in their organizations, but also in life in general. I do not expect them to change everything; I just ask them to work on “their corner of the world.” I believe that if each individual was to do that, we could collectively change the world for the better.

Change is tough — whether that is in an organization or in your own life. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is never easy. However, change — especially within a business or organization — is inherently important as the world continues to change around us.

I teach my business students that being a change agent in your organization is all about promoting and supporting a new way of doing an activity, or by taking action by way of a new process or structure to help transform your business. In marketing, they talk about the 5Ps: product, place, promotion, price and people. I talk about the 5Ps of being a change agent: people, process, patience, persistence and profitability.

People are your most important asset in any organization. You cannot have change in an organization unless employees are constantly striving to improve and change the organization for the better. People are resistant to change and do not always embrace the change process. Organizations must create an environment in which change improves the organization and is promoted on a daily basis. Management should lead the change process when it makes sense for the organization with the input of their employees.

A process is a set of activities or a series of actions that people take to achieve a result. Improvements in business processes produce improved services or products for customers. Change agents promote improvements in their organizational processes in order to deliver better results to their customers. In our supply chain classes, we teach that changing a process could reduce wait time in an emergency room, or wait time for a customer anywhere. Change here could be gradual or rapid, depending on how much it is needed. No matter which way the process is done, it should be continual to achieve the results the organization is looking for. 

Patience is the ability to wait and accept delay without becoming upset or complaining. As you are aware, change for the long haul does not usually happen overnight, and for most change agents — this can be frustrating. However, a change agent must have patience that meaningful and sustainable change will occur and that people in the organization will embrace positive change for the betterment of the organization. When changes in the organization are moving too slow, remember the famous words of the rock band, Guns N’ Roses, “Time when I was not sure, all we need is just a little patience.”

Persistence means existing or hanging in there for a longer time than usual, especially in spite of opposition to changes. Persistence comes into play in an organization in which the change agent continually takes every opportunity to have people understand why this particular change is important to the success of the organization; as a matter of fact, it is critical to the achievement of the organization.

In the Oxford dictionary, profitability is “the degree to which a business or activity yields profit or financial gain.” Change agents strive to help an organization improve its profitability by being more efficient. They strive to accomplish tasks well with the least amount of waste, time and effort, to produce desired results for the organization.

In his book, “Change Agent: Engaging Your Passion to Be the One Who Makes a Difference,” author Os Hillman says “each of us was created to solve a problem.” He asks readers to engage their passion to be the one that makes a difference, reminding them of change agents like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks. He says “each of these people was drawn into a personal crisis that led to a larger story that pushed them into living for a cause greater than themselves.”  While most of us may not have such a large story, Hillman explains we each have a circle of influence we can use to effect change for the greater good. Whether it be in an organization or in your life — I challenge you today to champion your cause, and as the old saying goes — “To be the change you wish to see in the world.”


Darrell Brown, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor of management and director of diversity at Indiana University Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus.

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