6 Ways to Know You’re an Agent of Change

“The only thing that is constant is change.” The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as having said that many, many years ago, and it’s still true today. What’s different now is how change happens.

Of course, many find happiness — or, at the very least, contentment — in status quo. They’re used to existing tools, systems or leadership because it’s what they know, and they don’t want to invest the time or money to learn about or adjust to something new — no matter how good the benefits may be.

That’s when real leadership is needed. In those cases, it takes a special kind of change agent to work with colleagues and executives, to challenge their thinking and push for a new way of doing things. This is especially true when it comes to a fundamental, transformative change — the kind Workday brings to an organization. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to deploy the tool. You need people across the organization to feel comfortable putting aside the way they work so they embrace new ways of thinking and willingly adopt improvements and upgrades to their current way of working.

These days, the ability to bring about change is how real leadership is defined. If you want to be a real Agent of Change, you need a particular set of skills — often, ones built over a long career that includes a variety of experiences. Here are six key traits common in those change makers.

1. They Have a Strategic Vision and a Plan

Nearly all Agents of Change see the big picture and have a strategic vision for where they see their organization going, whether that’s transforming the HR team from service center to strategic partner, improving organizational efficiencies or making the institution a hub for technological excellence.

But Agents of Change don’t just have vision and big-picture ideas. They also think tactically, and have a roadmap — or some kind of plan — for how the goal will be realized. That’s what makes it real and helps convince others that the ideas are doable.

2. They Are Strong Communicators

Many people have ideas, but Agents of Change know how to package their argument to make a convincing case. They do their homework, and are able to anticipate the questions they’ll be asked. They also know what messages to get across to whom, and how to do it so they don’t step on other people’s toes or hurt their feelings.

On a related note, they know there’s also no such thing as over-communication; and are prepared to repeat the same message multiple times until it gets through to the people who need to hear it. They know it’s a good idea to keep the focus on the benefits of a new system or another proposed change, rather than the specific changes themselves that are coming. It can make all the difference.

3. They Don’t Just Recognize a Problem. They Also Present a Solution

When there’s a problem within an organization, usually multiple people know it. Some will complain, but very few will actually present a solution. That’s the mark of a true Agent of Change: Someone who finds a way to fix things when others just adjust to the problem.

Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh perspective. That helps them to identify solutions and how they can be accomplished.

4. They Are Determined to Succeed

Convincing others to adopt a new mindset or agree to adopt a new tool doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why one of the most important skills is the ability to be simultaneously patient and persistent. Often, people are so bogged down in their own day-to-day responsibilities that it can be hard for them to see the big picture of how a proposed change will ultimately help them and the organization. Keeping their eye on the goal and maintaining focus makes it easier to get there — no matter how long it takes.

To wit: The Wright Brothers didn’t make a plane fly the first time they took off, and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t get any of his inventions to work for quite some time. That’s just the nature of trying to introduce any kind of change. It can be painful and difficult. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, then why should anyone else buy into your ideas?

5. They Get Buy-In from C-Level Leaders

It’s human nature for people to look to those in higher positions of leadership for signals of acceptance before they act. Which is why an effective change agent will get buy-in from those in executive positions early on so they can have an easier time convincing others.

A critical step in getting executive buy-in is often putting together a well thought out plan. Before they make the case to their boss, they build up a solid understanding of where the organization is and back it up with documentation about how people’s time and budget are being spent. They also present a roadmap for how things could and would change, align themselves with the right vendor partners and promise to keep one eye on the bottom line. When support comes from the top of the organization, others are more willing to get on board.

6. They Focus on Relationships

True change makers think beyond their goal. They know people will be more likely to buy in to change if there’s mutual respect and understanding, and the promise of collaboration down the road. To that end, they set up meetings with people across the organization: key stakeholders, people who are in the bowels of the system, people who have loud voices, people who have soft voices, managers, employees, etc. There’s no ulterior motive, just a desire to work together for a common goal — for the long term benefit of each other and the organization as a whole.

For an Agent of Change, seeing the impact and results of your hard work is the ultimate reward. Change doesn’t come easy, but for someone who wants to bring change to their organization, having a vision, a plan and the right skills will ensure a more successful result.

This blog post originally appeared on the Meteorix Blog.

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