Business innovation
Insight

Why You Need A Change Agent To Innovate

Business innovation requires not only a new approach to developing ideas but also the right kind of leader. In all the work we do as an innovation consultancy, I have noticed that every breakthrough has a consistent thru line: a strong leader on the client team. And I’m not simply talking about an executive who defines leadership solely by how well a project is managed. I mean a leader who possesses the vision to understand how change can transform an entire company and knows how to inspire others to advocate for change, too. I call this kind of leader a Change Agent.

Change Agents are unlike other executives. Change Agents understand why it is necessary to adopt a new way of working when others inside the organization feel little mandate to change.

While they need to be senior enough to have the authority to effect change, as well as the drive to innovate for business growth, Change Agents are unconstrained by functional titles. They have put themselves in position to champion the internal behavioral change needed for transformation.

Organizations need Change Agents because innovation is hard even among the most progressive and disciplined companies. Innovation requires businesses to adopt new processes that often make people uncomfortable. Innovation might require a company to work with new partners, which means bringing in fresh thinking that can challenge the current team.

Occasionally, I read about executives who bring about change by being ruthless and confrontational, but they are the exception, not the rule. Change Agents create a sense of urgency, but more often than not, they apply their relationship skills to build the consensus needed to convince a large enterprise to do things differently. When I collaborate with a client to develop a new product or service, I know I am working with a Change Agent when he or she demonstrates the following attributes:

  • Possesses a bold vision and is unafraid of risks
  • Is accountable and embraces any outcome
  • Has an innate desire to create immediate impact
  • Thinks of change across the company, not a single department
  • Builds internal and external partnerships for a mutually successful outcome

Forrester Research recently noted the importance of the Change Agent in a report about how businesses can collaborate with agencies to innovate. In “How to RFP for Innovation,” analyst Sarah Sikowitz shows CMOs how to collaborate with consultants and agencies to succeed with innovation. One of the points Sikowitz stresses is that organizations need to have the right internal resources in place to successfully collaborate with external partners.

Change Agents are made, not born, and you can develop the essential attributes to become one. Here are some steps you can take to mold yourself into being a change agent:

  • Take on the hard challenges that others refuse to tackle
  • Use the language of change in your everyday communication
  • Build the right alliances inside and outside your organization
  • Be clear in your intent to create change and ask for support to make it happen
  • Create your path within your organization by tying your actions to definitive business results

Innovation doesn’t happen magically. Organizations need to take the right steps in order to bring new products and ideas to market faster. Having a Change Agent in place to define and drive your innovation agenda is essential to making innovation an everyday occurrence.

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