How to Cultivate Internal Change Champions

By Monica Miller Rogers

Do you have a rival?

Not just a competitor you face, but a rival that you vie with for the ultimate victory?

In the coming weeks as football season grinds on, one such rivalry will be on display when the U.S. military service academies compete for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy.

Airmen, sailors, and soldiers may work in conjunction when it comes to the protection of the country, but the distinct cultures of each branch create a remarkable rivalry.

So, what happens when the armed services collide off the gridiron?

You get the tribulations and triumphs of joint basing.

Working as a civilian public affairs specialist for two rival military installations as they combined operations was challenging, to say the least.

As the orders for joint basing came down from Washington, it became clear that change leaders weren’t enough to make this cultural transition work.

Though leaders take responsibility for and implement new standards, internal change needs support from within to be successful.

Internal Change Champions to the Rescue

Like cheerleaders on the football field, internal change champions support your initiatives by believing in you and singing your praises.

They fulfill the classic public relations—it’s more credible to have others say how great you are than you scream it from the bullhorn.

Change comes easier when you provide an example for others to follow.

Airmen and soldiers who began training together in martial arts served as an excellent example of how joint basing could work.

By combining resources and sharing knowledge, this joint team of fighters showcased the core concepts.

Change champions don’t have to be managers. As in all opinion leader outreach, employees who’ve been empowered can get their colleagues on board.

With their influence, they bring others to agreement.

A leader can be too close to the idea. As Gini Dietrich would say, it’s hard to see if your own baby is ugly.

A champion, however, can identify problem areas and bring you recommendations from inside sources.

Calling All Internal Change Champions

You may have read about how employees are assigned to roles as change champions. But how authentic and useful is that really?

You need passionate, not ordered, people to support your cause. To find those real change champions, use these five tips in your next search.

  1. Clear the air. If you’re not upfront about what internal change is coming, how will you know who will support it? Before searching for internal change champions, provide transparent information and clean up toxic breaks in the organization.Joint basing was decided by Congress in 2005 with a five-year implementation start date. But employees didn’t first receive detailed information until two years before the launch—that’s where the public affairs office could have done better. By the time the communications strategy was implemented, there had already been years of rumors and uncertainty. The communications strategy had to tackle those rumors before any internal support could be found. Only once the correct information was available could change champions be sought.
  2. Create listening channels. Establish channels for your employees to voice their support, concerns, frustrations, or questions long before any changes are made. Through these channels you’ll find your potential supporters and identify the biggest worries they can address. Through simple man-on-the-street interviews, the public affairs office could hear the good and bad community members were experiencing with joint basing, even finding departments who had found new ways of working together.
  3. Seek the mentors and work across silos. Change champions don’t only come from inside the organization. Who is influencing your staff from the outside? How can you reach those people and gain their support? Work with external communications to find these opportunities. As part of the communications strategy, commanders (the change leaders) provided presentations on joint basing to local community groups, such as the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs. These presentations not only supported external communications efforts, but also engaged mentors to current service members, who in turn provided a trusted voice to share the message with those internally.
  4. Nurture feedback. Fear comes with any change. Allow for it. Some remarks may be harsh, but they have their place in the conversation. Encouraging discussion around the change and incorporating several points of view allow you to make a well-informed choice and helps employees feel included in the decision. Several town hall meetings were held leading up to joint basing. Some of those gatherings got intense, but letting employees vent their frustrations was the best way to include them in the decision-making process.
  5. Check the emotion. Even if you do have a beautiful baby, she isn’t going to be pretty to everyone. Don’t let it hurt your feelings. You’ll never gain 100 percent satisfaction, and that’s ok. Look for those who share the same faith in your vision and are willing to work with you. Allow the dissenters to express their opinions, consider their suggestions, and then move forward. Almost a decade since joint basing was announced, the concept still has its ups and downs. Those who’ve been able to make it work, however, have found ways to celebrate the triumphs more than agonize over the tribulations.

As it’s not just the quarterback who will win the game, no big change is ever accomplished alone. Cultivate inside support to make your next company reorganization, rebranding, or other internal change a success.

How do you work with internal change champions in your own organization?

Image Credit: The U.S. Army via Flickr

Monica Rodgers

Monica Miller Rodgers is an integrated communications strategist with experience in agency, government and international consulting roles. She is Accredited in Public Relations by the Public Relations Society of America. When not developing marketing plans, Monica can be found traveling, adding new destinations to her list of 30+ countries visited.

View all posts by Monica Rodgers