2012 has arrived full tilt and along with it comes new goals for personal and business success. Just as personal resolutions abound, business leaders are following suit, resolving to relentlessly and purposefully move their companies forward.
As noted in our blog last week, hiring is expected to increase this year. We have already seen evidence of this as the unemployment rate has recently dropped to 8.5 percent. Add to this mix, CEO turnover among U.S. companies is 13 percent which is at its highest in five years and voila, you have a recipe for change. When CEO turnover increases, it usually means Boards are abandoning the status quo in favor of a change agent. And it is not happening just at the CEO level. More than any other requirement, the one thing we as a search firm are being asked to produce is candidates who are "change agents."
A Change Agent is a person who leads change within the organization, by championing or conceiving the change and directing its implementation, and the role can be expressed or implied. The change agent helps to communicate the excitement, possibilities and details of the change to others within the team or the organization itself.
A change agent sounds great in theory, but as an executive team looking to hire a change agent, what should you expect? What is really going to change, and are you really ready?
1. Problems. Most change agents are hired to fix a particular problem. But a true change agent will not take your word or the Board’s word for it. He or she will do their own assessment in fairly short order. Be prepared for him or her to point out problems or challenges you didn’t even know you had. And it doesn’t work to say “no we want you to focus on the problem we identified but not the problem(s) you have identified. “
2. People. After assessing problem areas, the first order for a change agent is typically to evaluate talent. It’s an easy assumption that the existing team is aligned with the policies of their predecessor or even the individual before that, also known as the status quo. This new business leader wants a team who wholeheartedly buys into the new vision and pursues it. Expect that some people whom are currently part of your company or team may not be around in a year, and anyone who disagrees with the change may (and probably should) start looking elsewhere – despite the anxiety inherent in the uncertainty of a new manager, team members must be willing to change, and they may discover their own inner change agent.
3. Places. Change could mean new geographical markets for the company. Moving into new locales may enable significant economies of scale in operations as well as generate additional revenues. However, finding existing managers willing to relocate can be quite a challenge, although it is often the best place to start in order to maintain the existing culture (if that is desired). On a personal level, if relocation is an option for you, raise your hand. Be the person who says, “Send me. I’ll get the job done for you.” It could end up giving you a chance to shine that you can’t get at headquarters or your current location.
4. Products. Abandoning old business lines in favor of new ones is a matter of survival for some businesses, particularly those competing nationally and internationally, and is often a reason that change agents are needed. Be ready for some adjustments in product offerings if market trends warrant it, but also be ready for a significant redirection. After all, that’s what change agents do. He or she is in a race to find the next competitive advantage for their companies before their competitors do. If you’re married to the current identity of the organization, you might have to let it go and embrace a new one, and for some people this is hard to do. If your firm has always been the high end, relationship-based provider but there’s a strong argument to become lean and more transactional, it may be a hard pill to swallow.
5. Performance. Get ready to be measured, even and sometimes especially at the highest levels of the organization. Metrics are the name of the game these days, as uncomfortable as that might be, and great change agents recognize the value of cold, hard numbers. Even high performers can get anxious about changes in how they are evaluated and whether they will measure up to new expectations. Even traditionally high performers may have to change, which can cause some friction at first. The new executive is being measured on results as well, so be prepared to help absorb any heat coming from that direction.
If you are on the management team, now’s the time to take a long hard look at the organization and make an honest assessment as to whether the organization as a whole can handle significant change, now or at some point in the future – and we mean the near future. Change agents generally don’t enjoy the luxury of time. Their livelihood and possibly the company’s viability depend on the success of change.
So, I ask again. Are you really ready for change?