Explore the Levels of Change Management

Change Agents: Catalysts for Organizational Growth

four people looking at a screen with the ADKAR Model

 Thirty percent of organizational leaders reported that resistance to change is one of the top barriers to a successful change initiative—regardless of the industry. Thankfully, key leaders within your organization can act as change agents to promote and support critical changes within your organization.

Organizations across the public and private sectors have to navigate complex changes—like implementing new technologies and responding to market dynamics—and individual people in the organization must adopt and use them.

Prosci research shows that organizations that leverage networks of change agents have higher success rates with these changes, achieving project objectives 50% of the time compared to 41% for those without such networks.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the role change agents play in driving transformation in large organizational environments—from the theory behind them to case studies highlighting the impact they have during times of change. 

No matter where you are on the organizational change journey, Prosci has solutions to help you get there. 

What Is a Change Agent?

A change agent acts as a catalyst for change to improve systems, processes, culture and other outcomes.

Sometimes called change influencers, change champions, or agents of change, a change agent helps facilitate change initiatives within an organization by providing technical and social support.

There’s no one-size-fits-all definition for change agents—the exact role they play in driving organizational change depends on the context of the organization and the scope of the proposed change.

For decades, we’ve worked with clients on complex, large-scale transitions. To help people impacted by the changes, we developed "I-By" statements that clearly define their roles early in the process, so they can move forward:

I, (role), contribute to adoption and usage by (specific action).”

For example, a change leader might help an IT manager develop the following I-By statement during an ERP systems transformation: “I, the IT manager, contribute to the adoption and usage of the new ERP system by addressing the technical questions and concerns of other departments.”

"I-By" statements articulate the impact of change on individuals and identify specific benefits, directly addressing common points of resistance.

For larger initiatives, companies can build a change agent network to ensure support for the change at all organizational levels, across multiple locations and regions, and even with different cultures.

Skills that set effective change agents apart

These individuals aren’t just implementers of change—they’re strategists, empathizers and leaders. Here are some of the top skills change agents need to drive effective change within their organization.

Infographic showcasing five key skills for change agents

  • Communication and influence – Change agents need excellent speaking and listening skills to advocate change and ensure understanding. Building up influence and trust also helps them secure commitment from impacted groups and facilitates the smooth adoption of new practices​.
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence – Empathy allows change agents to perceive and understand the anxieties that change provokes. Emotional intelligence enables them to manage resistance behaviors and alleviate stress while creating a more supportive environment.
  • Strategic thinking and problem-solving – Change agents engage in strategic planning, risk assessment, and complex problem-solving. They need to see the bigger picture and anticipate roadblocks during decision-making so the initiative stays aligned with the organization's overall objectives. 
  • Adaptability and resilience – The path of change is rarely smooth or predictable. Successful change agents can pivot strategies as needed and demonstrate resilience in the face of setbacks, modeling this resilience for others in the organization.
  • Collaborative leadership – Change agents can serve as a bridge between leadership and the rest of the organization. This involves empowering others, facilitating teamwork, and building consensus around the change initiative.

Now that you understand the skills necessary to be an effective agent of change, let’s look at the difference between this role and another critical part of the change management process. 

Change agent versus change practitioner

The roles of a change practitioner and a change agent are distinct yet complementary. The two work alongside each other to help drive change. 

A Prosci Certified Change Practitioner is a professional trained in the Prosci Methodology, focusing on applying structured change management strategies and plans across an organization. 

Change practitioners work with stakeholders across leadership and management to build and carry out the change management strategy.  They also hold a variety of roles and are often responsible for the overall management of the change-adoption process, including:

  • Strategy formulation
  • Plan development
  • High-level change enablement

Practitioners often work behind the scenes, coordinating efforts, supporting people-facing roles, developing change management plans, and ensuring that change management activities integrate with the project plan​​.

Conversely, a change agent, sometimes part of a change agent network, acts as an extension of the change management team to facilitate organizational change. 

These change agents can be managers, supervisors or influential peers who interact with employees impacted by change in the organization. Their role is more hands-on and interpersonal, focused on promoting and modeling the change​​. 

They typically: 

  • Advocate for the change
  • Communicate its benefits
  • Support their colleagues through the transition

Change Agent Sponsors and People Managers

Change agent sponsors and people managers

Both roles are crucial for the success of change initiatives with change agents serving as the bridge between the change management team and the wider employee base.

Why Organizations Need Change Agents Today

The last decade saw several unprecedented events prompting significant organizational changes. From rapid shifts to remote work during the global pandemic to integrating artificial intelligence into tech stacks—the ability to drive change is indispensable.  

Unfortunately, 70% of organizations fail to realize the ROI and other intended benefits of their change initiatives. 

In the Prosci 5 Tenets of Change Management, which clarify the context and purpose of change management, the third tenet states that organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change. It also helps explain why agents of change are so important. They help drive individual change across all relevant teams and departments, including: 

  • Delivering change-related communication
  • Training and implementation support
  • Role-modeling change their team and peers
  • Managing change within their immediate domain

Change Agent Network Roles and Responsibilities

infographic change agent network roles

Change agents embody the Prosci principle that successful change is rooted in understanding and managing the people side of change. 

Embedding a network of change agents throughout all departments and organizational levels builds your capacity to quickly adopt new processes. Considering the myriad disruptive forces facing modern organizations—from new technology to macroeconomic forces—this capacity for quick, effective change quickly becomes a competitive edge.

Driving Successful Change With Change Agent Networks

The Prosci Methodology offers a structured and evidence-based framework for addressing the challenges inherent in organizational change. Central to this approach is the Prosci ADKAR Model®, which outlines the stages of change each individual must navigate: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. 

The Prosci ADKAR Model provides change agents with a clear roadmap to support individuals through the change process.

The Prosci ADKAR Model

The Prosci ADKAR Model's features

The Prosci Methodology enables change teams to scale the ADKAR Model at the organizational level through practical tools and approaches that help you achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s take a look at one of the many successful change agent examples that Prosci facilitated.

Building a change agent network with Avangrid 

A large American energy and utility company, Avangrid, wanted to increase its capacity to respond to the changing energy sector in an agile, efficient manner. The company employed over 7,000 employees across 23 states and had over $31 billion in assets at the time.

In 2013, the newly formed Avangrid Change Management Office (CMO) joined with Prosci to create a structured program to guide the change of new systems and processes. One of the key actions involved in creating an internal change agent network across the massive organization was to ensure all teams, departments and locations were prepared for change. The implementation process involved a joint effort between the CMO and Business Area Leaders to: 

  • Develop strict criteria for applicants
  • Select leaders with technical and people skills
  • Put selectees through Prosci training programs
  • Obtain Prosci Certifications for each leader

By the end of the engagement, Avangrid had sent 20 employees through the Prosci Change Management Certification Program operating across locations as a decentralized network. 

Read the full Avnangrid Prosci success story here. 

Start Your Next Change Today by Investing in a Change Agent Network

The journey of a change agent is one of continuous learning and adaptation. Embracing the Prosci Methodology can provide a solid foundation. But the key to success lies in being adaptable and responsive to the evolving business landscape. 

Reflect on your organization's readiness for change and consider how you, as a change agent, can drive growth and innovation. Remember, the future belongs to those who are prepared to lead through change.

Interested in becoming a more effective change agent? Explore the training and resources Prosci offers to equip yourself with the knowledge and skills needed for the changing world. Start your journey today, and be at the forefront of driving organizational success.

Neely McHarris

Neely McHarris

Neely McHarris is a change practitioner, educator and DEI leader who supports a variety of client engagements, including enterprise resource planning and human capital management systems implementations. Leveraging the Prosci Methodology and ADKAR® Model, she coaches people and teams through changes, enabling them to break through barriers to adoption and transition successfully. Neely has a bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies, and master’s degrees in both theology and student affairs in higher education. She also holds a graduate certificate in organizational leadership and is a Conflicts Dynamics Profile (CDP®) certified facilitator.

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