Why does someone become a champion? Champions are ready for change and your ideas resonate with them:
- They may have experienced the same frustrations or problems that you have
- They may have seen the same data as you and reached the same conclusions
- They may have been dealing with customer complaints and so understand the imperatives for improvement
- Or perhaps they understand the political externalities that are driving your change.
Some will also be new to the organisation and have no allegiance to the old ways of doing business. Generally speaking, seniority doesn’t determine a team member’s attitude to change: you will find champions at all levels of your organisation.
Champions believe in your change and they have faith in you to deliver it, so it is essential that you support them as they encounter difficulties implementing your change. Like you, champions will find working with sceptics difficult, time-consuming and trying.
Champions may dismiss objections raised by the sceptics, failing to listen for what is useful in their concerns. If this occurs, especially in the case of newer team members, the old hands will dismiss the champions in turn. Great champions need to learn to embrace the sceptics. Your role will be to model the behaviour you expect to see and to equip the champions with the skills they need.
There are other people who are sometimes confused with champions. Some team members will support your change as long as they perceive you to be sufficiently powerful to take them with you as your career progresses. They don’t need to believe in the change: it is sufficient for them to believe it will be personally and professionally advantageous to support you. They will quickly decide to support you all the way – until there is a bump in the road, at which point their support may be withdrawn just as quickly.
For this reason, it’s important to check the motivations of those team members who are enthusiastically embracing your change program.
Ask yourself how they have come to the conclusion that change is needed and why your proposal is the best approach. Or better yet, ask them. A true champion will have genuine personal and professional reasons for supporting your change, even if they have some difficulty in articulating these. A less sincere supporter will probably have a facile answer which they think is what you will want to hear. By asking probing questions and listening carefully to their answers, you will be able to find the champions you need to get your work done.
Working with an executive coach can be extremely beneficial here. Because coaches come from outside your organisation, they can bring an objectivity to the process. An executive coach can help you build an understanding of whether the people putting themselves forward as champions get the rationale behind your change or whether they have a history of following their leaders, no matter what change has been implemented.
An executive coach can help you build a framework to decide how to assign critical tasks, and develop a plan for better engagement of the less sincere supporters.
Sometimes events can overtake your change so that it does not come to fruition. Champions of your program for change will be at least as disappointed as you. They may have put themselves on the line for you and may have faced significant opposition. In appropriate situations, they will have let your customers know about the improvements that were coming and realise how frustrated those customers will now be. They will also be facing the obstructionists who will no doubt tell them, “I told you so.”
In this situation, it is essential that you support them. Explaining the situation clearly and effectively to the people who have been helping you implement your change, both champions and sceptics alike, is essential. Let them know what has occurred that makes the change impossible and allow them to express their feelings to you. After all, when the next change needs to be implemented, you will want trusted allies who believe in you and your efforts to improve the organisation.
An executive coach can help you:
- build your skills in these difficult communication tasks
- find the best ways to deliver the bad news to your staff and
- assist you to find positive approaches to listening as they express their frustrations.With these skills you will be able to engage your champions in a way that allows them to continue to be your champions now and into the future.