From Project Manager to Change Agent

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Categories: Change Management

Employees who adapt quickly are an organization's change agents. Project managers have the potential to be great change agents — and in that role, enact change at the project team level.

But that requires helping an individual accept change in the first place. To do so, I often start by looking at U.S. business consultant Charles Rogel's method, the SARA model. It describes how individuals react to change:

  • Shock or denial, particularly if it's not what they want to hear
  • Anger or anxiety, especially considering the point of view of the news
  • Resistance then sets in, when the realization of inevitable change looms.
  • Acceptance is last, usually turning to support of the change for the better.
I have had to employ the SARA model many times, for major changes — from outsourcing to mergers and acquisitions — that have led to organizational changes and restructuring for my teams and me. As a leader, empathetic to my team's uncertain future, I have used SARA to help me guide them toward visualizing an end state that they can accept, even if it requires more time and effort than I had originally scoped for it. I have even provided placement assistance to help some individuals find their next role outside of my team.

In the end, you just have to remember: You cannot force people through the process. But learning to guide them through it helps you improve your leadership ability by aligning teams and stakeholders to a common vision. 

What model do you use to help guide your project team toward acceptance of change? For more on change management, visit PMI's change management portal.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: June 02, 2013 03:34 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Omar Ali Beg, MS, PMP
So the question is, “What model do you use to help guide your project team towards acceptance of change?” The approach involves various steps. Before going through the steps, I would like to mention the basis of this approach through two points. Firstly, if any organization decides to go for a change, the most effected asset of that organization is its people. Moreover, it is the people who will actually implement the change. Therefore, as a project manager we should be focused on our people, their thoughts, emotions and needs. I would like to introduce here an excerpt from the book First Things First, “Management works within the system. Leadership works on the system. You manage things; but you lead people”. While dealing with a change, we are working on the system and we must lead our people to go through. Secondly, instead of being reactive, a project manager must be proactive both in visualizing a change as well as while implementing it. Therefore, a systematic approach is to be adopted to guide the project team towards acceptance of a change as follows: 1. Prepare your people for a change as you visualize it. They won’t be shocked to learn about it on a later stage. 2. Convince them that change is inevitable and win their trust. Keep it straightforward i.e. major point of discussion should be the benefit of the organization and/or the people as a whole, instead of individual benefits. 3. Explain that what is in it for them. They will own the change. 4. Involve them as how to introduce the change? You will get good ideas. 5. Involve them and keep them informed about its implementation plan. They will help you in its implementation. 6. Make a compensation plan/package for those who are severely affected by the change in any way. I will sum up the above discussion in a sentence i.e. “Own your people and they will perform miracles”.

Fundamentally (In my opinion)the change process buiding blocks remain same across the organizations and is more of PDCA cycle (Plan, Do , Check & Act) to drive the change implimentation and to elaborate it further START : Draft the process (listing pros & cons of new process in relation to the old process) Discuss & Convince stakeholders about the new process Impliment the process Observe the process for stipulated time Get the feedback from stake holders Further improve process , Document the process Process established -END the key & success lies in driving each stage of the change process and skills required are more of interpersonal than technical skills. Own the People and the People (Team ) own the process for you.

Marnie Fienberg
PMs are trusted change agents for many people. They are authority figures, but not necessarily administrative managers. Most projects are also, by nature, fungible, allowing for new processes and approaches within the project. It's a nice sweet spot that is rarely taken advantage of by organizations. While the SARA model is good for a sudden change, I find that, if possible, planing and collaborating with team members helps them own the change. Sometimes they can even improve the business goal that the change was addressing!

Bernadine Douglas
This is an important post, Peter. I agree with Omar's step 4 to involve the people, the team, or the employees. This allows them to feel a part of the decisions and the purpose. I also think the last point of making a compensation plan/package for anyone severely impacted is a good cushion to have in place.

Jørgen Frøland
You write: "...even if it requires more time and effort than I had originally scoped for it." In my experience, it is usually the rule rather than exception to spend more time on changes. The challenge is to get everyone to accept this.

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