What Change Agents Value at Work

When it comes to change management, half the battle is making sure you have the right leaders in place. And that means looking carefully at their competencies, behavioral styles, and values.

To help with that challenge, my colleagues and I have created a change-agent profile. In our work assessing people for the right job fit, we’ve collected and analyzed extensive data on Fortune 1000 executives across a wide spectrum of industries. Here’s what we’ve discovered about change agents in that senior group:

  • They’re somewhat rare. Approximately 20 percent of senior executives scored high on five key competencies that correlate with effective change management.
  • Executives with those five competencies are more task-oriented than people-oriented.
  • They also appear to be motivated most by achievement. Power is a close second.

And here’s how we arrived at those high-level findings.

We analyzed competencies.

In our years of experience working with organizations in transition, we’ve identified the following strengths as key indicators of effective change management:

  1. Demonstrates flexibility and resilience. Works well with a variety of individuals or groups. Adapts as the requirements of a situation change. Manages pressure and copes with setbacks effectively.
  2. Recognizes growth opportunities. Looks for ways to improve. Demonstrates skill in minimizing others’ resistance to change.
  3. Strives for results. Focuses on improving performance.
  4. Leads courageously. Takes charge of initiatives and situations. Takes responsibility for making difficult decisions, even in the face of dissent. Shares feelings, opinions, and needs with clarity and conviction. Does not avoid conflict or differences.
  5. Gains buy-in. Explores alternative perspectives and ideas to reach solutions that have support from others in the organization.

So after surveying more than 600 executives about their experiences dealing with a range of change-related business problems, we analyzed the data for statistical relevance to the competencies above.

We examined behavioral styles.

Next, we looked at the four behavioral styles from our own version of the DISC methodology personality assessment: driving (assertive, independent, driven to win, on the go), impacting(talkative, social, emotional, and spontaneous), supporting (emphatic, accommodating, and trustworthy), and contemplating (reserved, analytical, quiet, and unhurried).

Even though the people-oriented “impacting” executives tend to implement change effectively, it turns out that the more task-oriented “driving” executives are even better at it. They score the highest, of everyone surveyed, on all five change competencies. They have a strong need to dominate, and they’re directive when they deal with problems. Decisive and results-focused, they are uncomfortable with the status quo and likely to be strong change agents.

We correlated competencies with values.

Finally, we looked at how executives with all five competencies scored on values, which helped shed light on the type of work environment they find most motivating and rewarding. We saw the strongest positive correlation with the desire for achievement, followed by the desire for power, adventure, and creativity, respectively. Leaders who scored high on independence and altruism tended to score lower on the five change competencies.

If your organization is facing transition, try evaluating people against our change-agent profile when hiring, assigning, or promoting them. During interviews, zero in on the key competencies, and ask how they’ve demonstrated the related behaviors in their current and previous roles. Further, ask yourself whether they show evidence of being task-oriented and are strongly motivated by achievement and power. The executives who do are the ones best equipped to make change happen.