February 8, 2009

Change Agents--Poisoned or promoted?

Let’s fantasize for a moment about what it must be like to be an enterprise architect/change agent.

Here we go.

Our stereotypical organization, let’s call it ABC Company has a talented group of enterprise architects. They have worked hard, built partnerships, learnt the organization and its needs, and have done a remarkable job working with leadership, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders in identifying an accurate baseline, determining a promising target, and have helped the organization navigate a well thought out transition plan. The organization reaches its target—success—and the process continues.

Hooray for the architects. Praise and promotion be upon ABC company’s enterprise architects.

Wait. Not so fast. Let’s back up. Rewind and see what often really happens when architects or anyone else for that matter tries to change the status quo:


Research shows that change agents are often scorned by their organizations and their peers. In immature organizations that do not embrace constructive change, change agents like enterprise architects are often not looked upon favorably.

Remember what happened to Socrates more than two millennium ago (and countless others innovators, inventors, and thought leaders since)?

Strategy + Business Magazine, Issue 53, has an article called “Stand by Your Change Agent.”

The article states: “research shows that most transformation leaders go unpromoted, unrecognized, and unrewarded. And their companies suffer in the long run.”

In a study of 84 major change initiatives at Fortune 500 companies between 1995 and 2005, “some 70 percent of executives who led these major transformations went unrewarded or were sidelined, fired, or spurred to leave.”

Why are change agents treated adversely?

The research shows that “deep down, a great many people and organizations fear change. People do not like to move out of their comfort zones. Powerful institutional forces help maintain the status quo. In such companies, change simply has no constituency.”

In these change-averse organizations, change agents often “find their efforts impeded, undermined, or rejected outright. Change agents may also suffer from the delusion that others see the urgent need for action just as they do, and may be frustrated to discover how little key stakeholders care about the initiatives and outcomes they hold dear.”

What is the impact to companies that treat their change agents this way?

Both the companies and people suffer. Change initiatives remain unfinished. Investments do not see their payback. Highly talented change agents are lost. And worse, other potential leaders will think many times over before taking on a change effort that “could derail their careers.”

Well, which companies did best with change?

“Companies that scored highest in leadership development and embracing change were most likely to improve performance.”

The lesson is clear: If companies want to grow, mature, and improve performance, then they need leaders who are visionaries and change agents to step up to the plate.

Those organizations that recognize this truth will embrace their change agents—encourage, recognize, reward, promote, and retain them.

Talented and motivated change agents (like enterprise architects) are an organization’s best hope for innovation, energizing creative potential, and long-term organizational success.


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