Driving successful change is hard…and companies are experiencing more change now than ever before. Leaders play a key role in ensuring that change is adopted and successful, but people also need a more informal place to talk about the change – to share their fears and concerns. Research shows that many people get through a change by relying on their relationships with others in the workplace. Because of this, a Change Network is a great tool to help people move along the Change Curve to the point of adoption and commitment (for more information on the Change Curve, see “Moving Champions up the Change Curve” section). Standing up a successful Change Network does require an upfront investment, but Champions can be a true differentiator in a change, driving adoption and helping with support in the long run.
Here are Four tips that can help you stand up a successful Change Network:
1. Select the “right” Champions in the “right” way.
The first step in standing up a successful Change Network is to work with Leaders to identify the Champions who will participate in the Change Network. Champions should:
- Be well-respected and well-liked by peers (well-networked);
- Have good interpersonal skills;
- Be committed to the success of the organization (want to make a difference); and
- Be flexible, and have the courage to speak up for what they believe.
Leaders should think carefully about who to select to ensure they have representation from across the business. A good place to start is to work with the Program’s Steering Committee to identify Champions from across the organization.
Champions need to see their role as a good opportunity and not something their manager or leader is forcing them to do. One way to accomplish this is to ask senior leaders to communicate with the Champions to let them know they have been nominated for a Champion role instead of relying on the Project Team or Change Management Team. In this communication, Leaders should explain that it’s an honor to be selected as a Champion and a great development opportunity, as well as highlight some of the characteristics or behaviors the person demonstrates and how those behaviors contributed to their selection as a Champion. Building a strong relationship between the leaders and Champions also maximizes the chances for success.
Since most often the role of a Champion is in addition to a day job it’s important to communicate expectations around time commitment of the role. Depending on the type of change, and the dedication required, the time commitment for Champions normally ranges from 5–10% of their job (about 2–4 hours per week) but could be full time in some circumstances. If it’s the latter, the Champion will need support with their day to day activities. It can also be helpful to make participating in the Change Network part of the employee’s Goals or Objectives for the year so there is some accountability on impactful performance.
Another important consideration is the number of Champions you need as part of the Change Network. Typically, organizations think about this in terms of a ratio – how many Change Champions will need to support a group of end users? Depending on the magnitude of the change, typically, one Change Champion for 20 to 30 end users is a good ratio to stick to as it allows the flexibility to effectively support a group of end users while not causing too much of a resource strain on the organization to nominate such a large number of Champions.
2. Kicking Off the Change Network
The first Change Network meeting should be the “kick-off”, in which the person leading the Change Network (not the Champions themselves) explains the project, the concept of a Change Network, and what it means to be a Change Champion. Many (if not all) of the Champions may have little to no understanding of Change Management, so it will be critical to explain what Change Management is and its role in driving change and adoption.
Here’s a sample agenda for the Kick Off meeting:
i. Explain the Change (including benefits)
ii. Review the Change Management Strategy
iii. Explain the Purpose and Expected Contribution of a Change Network
iv. Deep Dive into Roles & Responsibilities
v. Materials & Resources Available to the Champions
vi. Discussion: How can we best engage end users?
vii. Next Steps / Actions / Asks
Champions should understand that the Project Team cannot successfully drive the change within the organization. Instead, we need to rely on the business teams to drive the change. Additionally, our Champions have the credibility and relationships required in the business to move employees along the Change Curve. While the Champions have a big responsibility, they will also have guidance and support from the Change resources on the Project Team.
3. Moving Champions up the Change Curve
“The Change Curve (1) is a popular and powerful model used to understand the stages of personal transition and organizational change. It helps you predict how people will react to change, so that you can help them make their own personal transitions, and make sure that they have the help and support they need”. (2) Depending on the Change Curve model, stages range from denial to anger to fear to acceptance to commitment.
The purpose of the Change Network meetings is to communicate the right type of information to the Change Champions and understand how the information you are communicating might impact them, with the end goal being to move the Champions from denial to acceptance. Then, the Change Team can rely on the Champions to do the same thing with end users.
Running a successful Change Network takes time and preparation. The Change Team that is responsible for running the Change Network should create a meeting schedule for the Change Network, including how often the group will meet, and the content that will be covered in each meeting.
The frequency of meetings might change based on the timeline or milestones of the project. For example, in the beginning of the project, the focus is on building awareness in the meetings, and meeting frequency might be less than when the project is approaching training, deployment, and support, when the purpose is to prepare the Champions for their role in deployment.
Planning what content will be covered in each meeting is also key. You can start with: what is the project, what is its purpose, what are the benefits, what are the challenges, etc. Then, to help move the Champions along the Change Curve, topics can progress into more detailed reviews of the change and its impacts, system demonstrations, and the training and support plans—and most important, continuously explain the Champion’s role in all of this.
Finally, the Change team running the Change Network needs to thoughtfully prepare materials for each Change Network meeting. Typically, this includes a short presentation or document, or system demonstration. Also, the leader of the Change Network meetings should be prepared to walk through the presentation or system demonstration and be ready to answer any questions.
Building Champion Commitment
Each Change Network meeting should renew the Champions’ sense of purpose and responsibility and their enthusiasm to share information with those affected by the change. To help encourage this feeling, it’s effective to assign the Champions an “ask” or an “action” (much like homework) at the end of each meeting. This could include: providing feedback to the project team on the impacts of the change, and perceptions of those impacts, reviewing a communication or messaging and providing feedback, cascading a communication, or helping to lead training. The “ask” or “action” will vary depending on the exact role you have determined your Champions will play.
Champions are a great vehicle to help cascade communications that are meant to be received by all employees in the organization. Often, it’s more impactful to have a resource in the business deliver a message than for a blanket message to be sent from a leader to the entire organization. Then, after the Champions cascade the message, they can bring any feedback they heard back to the Change Network and the team can help identify solutions or additional change activities to address the concerns.
The Champion to Champion peer support that is often experienced in the Change Network meetings can also help grow commitment to the change. When Champions share feedback they’ve received, others Champions can comment about their experiences and offer ideas as support.
4. Bringing this to life, using a client example:
Client & Project
The client is a global brewer with about 18,000 employees, 31 breweries, and selling brands in more than 50 countries. The Program we supported from a Change Management perspective was a HR Transformational Program to standardize the client’s People Processes globally, and to bring the entire organization onto a single tool, SuccessFactors, to support these processes. The program had a 3 year roadmap, starting with Goal Setting, Performance Management, and Compensation.
Change Network Approach
In creating our Change Management strategy, we determined a global Change Network was a key part of our Stakeholder Management approach. Since the program was impacting about 10,000 employees across all functions of the organization, we created a tiered Change Network, starting with the Global Change Management Team (Envision resources). The Global Change Management Team was responsible for creating and executing the Change Management strategy, creating global communications and training materials, and leading and facilitating the Change Network meetings. Supporting the Global Change Management Team was a team of Business Unit Change Leads from our different geographies (US, Canada, UK, and Central Europe). These resources were leaders in the HR organization (HR Business Partners or HR Directors) and were responsible for owning the change in their geography, localizing global communications and training materials with their regional differences, and co-leading the Change Network meetings (along with the Global Change Team).
We took a two-pronged approach when selecting our Change Champions—first, we selected HR Business Partners, HR Directors, and key members of the HR organization to manage and drive the change within the HR organization; and second, we selected key business leaders from each function of the organization to drive the change within each function. The end result was a Change Network group of about 150 Change Champions across the globe.
Change Network Execution
We utilized our Steer Committee members to help nominate and communicate to each of our Champions (through a personal letter), highlighting the importance of their role within a key program of the organization, and sharing the specific qualities we looked when determining Champions.
Due to regional differences and the resulting change impacts, we held two separate Change Network meetings—one for the Champions from the US and Canada, and a second meeting for the Champions from the UK and Central Europe. The Global Change Team was responsible for determining the agendas, creating the meeting content, and leading the meetings, in partnership with our BU Change Leads, who would bring relevant local examples or change impacts to each meeting.
During our “kick-off” meeting, we covered the following topics:
i. Introduction to the Program
ii. Review of our Change Management Strategy
iii. Why have a Change Network?
iv. Deep Dive into Roles and Responsibilities
v. Logistics / Materials / Resources for the Champions
vi. Discussion: How can we best engage end users?
vii. Next Steps / Asks
Because the change impacts were fairly large for most of our geographies, we continued holding Change Network meetings every other week for about 6 months leading up to our go-live. In our subsequent meetings, we covered various process updates and performed demonstrations of the SuccessFactors tool. We also had many discussions with the Champions to collect their feedback on our global messaging, communications, and training plans and materials. Additionally, all of the Champions had the option to “informally” participate in User Acceptance Testing (so they could be exposed to the tool early). They also supported our local training delivery and were key support resources once we went live.
At the end of each meeting, we closed with Next Steps/Asks. To encourage involvement engagement from our Champions, it was critical to give an “ask” to the Champions following each meeting. We started by asking the Champions to cascade a presentation that the Global Change Team created out to the groups they supported. The purpose of the presentation was to inform all employees about the Program and the changes they could expect to see. Additional asks included: collecting feedback from employees about the benefits/challenges of the program, reviewing feedback on key communications and training materials, providing feedback on the system as part of User Acceptance Testing, and supporting (what/who is being supported- need to add in here) with training logistics and delivery.
After go-live, we continued our Change Network meetings as part of our support process. Since the Champions were our “first line” of support, we asked them to attend optional meetings twice a week (for the first few weeks of go-live), to get help from the Project Team to answer questions they received, and to share any issues or questions from end users with the Global Change Team (this information helped us understand any updates we might need to make to training or that could contribute to a FAQ).
When the HR process we implemented came to a close, so did the Change Network. In our final meeting, we had our Chief People Officers join the Change Network meetings to offer their thanks and appreciation. We also sent each of our Champions a thank you note from their Steering Committee member along with a thank you gift to show our appreciation of their dedication and time commitment.
Overall, we received great feedback on our Change Network approach and real excitement from our Champions to be involved in such a critical program to not only the HR organization, but the business as a whole.
Change Networks are a powerful part of a Change Strategy, but they have to be run in the right way because participating in a Change Network is a big time commitment for Champions (in most instances it’s additional to their day job). When planning for and executing a Change Network, make sure you’ve identified the correct Champions, you’ve explained their role and purpose in the Change Network, and you’ve provided relevant content and action items in each of your Change Network meetings. This will help prepare your Champions to be one of your most valued change assets. Finding ways to move ownership of the change to the business (through a Change Network) will decrease the magnitude and duration of a productivity dip after the change is effected, and improves the chances that the change sticks and business benefits are realized in the long term. In addition, consistently executing Change Networks on large change initiatives in an organization will help create and foster a change capability within that organization and will help employees be better prepared for the changes coming their way!
About the Author
With over 10 years of experience in the Change Management space, Rachel Rainey brings her expertise to clients and peer group teams. Rachel’s style is unique and she is often requested on difficult projects, due to her proven successes which utilize her trusting and honest approach to difficult business situations. Change is a challenging situation and daunting task. Rachel has the ability to help work through fears to masterfully guide people. She also has extensive experience in training design and delivery.
Rachel lives in Denver and has a B.S.B.A. in business management from Bucknell University.
Contact Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-227-9872.
2. Mind Tools Editorial Team, The Change Curve, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_96.htm.