Creating the Secret Sauce – Selecting Change Management Champions

To achieve successful implementation of major change, a public sector organization must identify multiple Change Management Champions (CMC) to help lead the grass roots efforts for change. Ideally, CMC candidates should opt into the role. After all, forcing employees to be a CMC would appear to be antithetical to what change management is all about. However, just because someone wants to be a CMC, does not mean that they should be blindly accepted into that role. Key project stakeholders, including the project manager and executive sponsor, should vet the candidates. Recently, I worked with the City of Cleveland and Santa Ana, CA. The CMC candidates that were eventually identified to lead their teams possessed the following attributes:

  • Willingness to actively push for and advocate for change-oriented ideas and positions
  • Mutual accountability
  • Useful process, functional, or technical knowledge
  • Comfortable with new technology
  • Able to deal well with uncertainty and workplace disruption
  • Credibility with fellow team members and the municipal leadership
  • Thought leadership
  • Out-of-the-box mentality
  • Change agent with a bias for action

Each team/department that is involved with the change should have their own dedicated CMC. If the department has a lot of impacted employees (more than 10) they should consider having two CMCs lead their change function. If the CMCs gets overloaded leading the change initiative, they could get burned out, and the project will suffer.

While I was working with Cleveland we implemented a rigorous screening process for the CMC candidates. We interviewed all the candidates and chatted with their peers and colleagues as a component of our data collection process. We utilized both written and interview data to help make our decisions. Given the importance of the role, the executive sponsor was involved in all these decisions. The CMC’s key initial responsibilities included:

  1. Understanding and being able to communicate the scope of the change
  2. Identifying the impact of the change on the people, infrastructure, processes, and culture of the organization
  3. Determining when to engage the executive sponsor and how to leverage their involvement

The CMCs that were eventually selected to lead their teams excelled at the following:

  • Receptive to multiple perspectives and constructs
  • Empathetic listening
  • Sensitivity to concerns voiced by employees
  • Comfortable with being challenged by employees
  • Able to deliver difficult information to employees

In Cleveland, the CMC selected remain engaged for the project duration. Of course, there was employee resistance to the change. That is normal. However, due to our diligence in selecting the CMC, the resistors were categorized and had their issues addressed appropriately so the project was not derailed. After the project was implemented, many of the resistors were either advocates (big win!!) or had their resistance minimized to such an extent that they did not impede the project’s progress.

I close with the following questions:

1 – Can you share any examples of important traits/skills of CM champions you have worked with?

2 – Can you share best-in-class examples of how CM champions navigated through a challenging project?

Tune in next week when we discuss how to Categorize Different Types of Employee Resistance

Check out my previous four Change Management Blogs at:

Change Happens—How Do You Manage It?


The Impact of Ignoring Change


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 1


Getting it Right: Critical Success Factors for Change Management Initiatives, Part 2


Spencer Stern specializes in assessing the business and process impact of new technology-based solutions, ranging from enterprise-wide software systems to wireless communications networks. In 2008 he launched Stern Consulting where he continues to focus on assessing the financial impact of large-scale municipal strategic implementations. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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