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Change Agents

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According to (Tandon, 2002), a change agent needs many personal characteristics in order to be successful. The role model of an outstanding change agent is embodied by James Shaw, who is described as young, ambitious, idealistic, demanding, enthusiastic, creative, intelligent, educated, persistent, strong-minded, as well as naïve, inexperienced, critical and unrealistic. He seems to have it all. And what his skills portfolio is missing, he compensates by building a powerful team around him. By recruiting former AIESEC members he acquires additional qualities such as impassioned speech, visionary skills, networking and communication skills. But a change agent needs more than that. He has to “keep it real”, as modern society would put it. In the words of (Tichy, 2007) a change agent needs to “walk the talk”, he has to be credible. (Quinn) states that the main reason for the failure of change efforts is lack of personal authenticity. He makes his point very clear by quoting Gandhi, who said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

So does James Shawn really practice what he preaches? Is he himself willing to change or is he only using his fine skills to promote change without any credibility? James Shawn gained much credibility due to his extensive engagement at AIESEC. This student organization is devoted to form sustainable leaders and a sense of international corporate social responsibility exactly the values Shawn wants to implement at PwC. But not only his background, also his concrete actions such as the implementation of the “triple-bottom-line reporting” and simply his mere commitment, show that indeed his “heart is in the field” (Tichy, 2007). Additionally, (Furnham, 2002), (Quinn), and (Tichy, 2007) all describe another personal characteristic a successful change agents needs to have: He has to be “bold and free” to never compromise the change agenda, even if this might cost his job (Tichy, 2007).

Only when he leaves personal fears behind, when he stands up courageously to take the actions that are necessary to advocate change, he becomes a really effective change agent. (Furnham, 2002) describes various forms of courage in detail. The one, which stroke me most, was courage to fail. I also think this is a key quality for change agents, because leading change means taking an organization to new grounds. It is about “thinking outside the box” (Quinn) and walking down new and sometimes unknown paths. Thus it is in the nature of change itself that things do not always go right. James Shaw and his team do have this courage, e.g. Shaw dares to present his “radical idea” within his very first weeks at work. His surprising paper proposes a “highly improbable notion”: Measuring the success of PwC by its effects on society and the global environment. Another prove for the change team’s successful boldness is Middleburgh’s approach to the head of the U.K. firm, asking him directly what the values of the new firm were going to be.

Courageous acts like these resulted in valuable new contacts and the support of powerful senior sponsors. This connection between senior executives at the top of the hierarchy and young change agents at the bottom is described by James Shaw as another key point for successful change. Shaw describes both, seniors and greenhorns, as having “similar levels of self-expression and a broad horizon”. This teamwork combines the advantages of internal change agents embodied by the senior executives, and rather external change agents represented by their younger colleagues. (Tichy, 2007) also underlines the benefit of this combination by stating that “the only bold initiatives were coming from external consultants”. The young change agents contribute their fresh, naïve, and yet external perspective.

They are “not afraid of asking dumb questions or challenge conventions” (James Shawn). The internal change agents on the other hand provide credibility, they “know the political system and the culture, and they can open doors” (James Shawn). On the whole one can say, that James Shawn is truly a great change agent. He has the required skills, knows how to recruit a powerful change team to support him, combines cleverly the advantages of external and internal change agents, and has the courage to truly drive grassroots change, including himself in the change process.

Furnham, A. (2002). Managers as change agents. Journal of Change Management , 3 (1), 21-29. Quinn, R. E. On Becoming a Transformaional Change Agent.
The Young Change Agents, CS-02-015 (2002).
Tichy, N. (2007). Bob Knowling’s Change Manual. fastcompany.com.

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