Facilitating Organizational Change with a Network of Change Champions

By Evans, James D. | T&D, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Facilitating Organizational Change with a Network of Change Champions


Evans, James D., T&D


At an undergraduate art college in a large U.S. city, the financial services department tells a student that she cannot continue to attend class until she fulfills her latest payment. After the student misses two classes, the instructor calls to inquire about her absenteeism, only to discover that financial services instructed her not to attend because of her outstanding bill.

The student, now very frustrated, wants to withdraw from the school. When the admissions department receives her paperwork, administrators blame education because another student is leaving, and thus enrollment numbers will drop. In its defense, education points the finger at financial services for not allowing the student to attend class. Conflict erupts, and tempers between departments flare.

The opportunity

This situation presented significant challenges to the college's learning and development (L&D) department in the form of communication issues, dysfunctional silos, and cross-departmental barriers hindering change. Each department's lack of knowledge about how the others functioned fostered confusion and enmity throughout the entire administration. The impact on students--the customers--was significant because they often faced great difficulty navigating commonplace snags (such as financial aid and class schedule problems) inherent in the operation of a post-secondary learning institution.

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The solution

Through interviews and observation, the L&D department determined that an organization-wide change initiative might increase communication and collaboration within the administration, provide better service to students, and improve relations among departments.

The process

The L&D department realized that obtaining the focused support of respected, knowledgeable insiders would be essential to the program's success. Research unearthed an idea presented in Daniel Tobin's 1998 article, "Using a Human Resources Development Advisory Board as a Strategic Tool."

Tobin recommends that an advisory board comprise representatives from key business units, each with significant knowledge, influence, and drive to assist the L&D department to be an effective business partner. The department adopted and then adapted that concept to suit the situation. Creating and using an L&D advisory board called for selecting the right department candidates, enabling their development as leaders in the new role, and deploying them as advocates and change agents to implement the initiative.

Selection. The first consideration in the selection process involved choosing the appropriate organizational level that the board members should represent, recognizing that the highest ranked person in the department is not necessarily the best for the role. The chosen candidates included individuals who were respected by and had influence with their peers--both people in positions that reported to them and those at the senior level in the department. These criteria allowed each department's change champion to exert influence both up and down the hierarchy.

Another requirement for advisory board members was a commitment to organizational performance improvement--not necessarily being comfortable with the status quo--as was demonstration of solid leadership skills within their own functional areas.

Development. Presenting the group with a vision of a better future was the first step in the process of developing the advisory board members to be effective leaders and change agents. The L&D department told a story that painted the picture of an organization in which all departments work toward a common set of goals and support one another's efforts. Having bought into this vision, advisory board members helped others to see how alignment of individual, team, and organizational goals could build strength and increase engagement within individual departments and across the entire enterprise.

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Facilitating Organizational Change with a Network of Change Champions
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