Four Hidden Reasons Your Change Agent Will Fail

June 3, 2019



  1. a person who acts on behalf of another person or group.

“my agent told me that someone wanted to make a film out of my novel”

synonyms:   representative, negotiator, business manager, emissary, envoy, factor, go-between, proxy, surrogate, trustee, liaison, broker, delegate, spokesperson, spokesman, spokeswoman, frontman, mouthpiece; informalrep

  1. a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect.

“universities are usually liberal communities that often view themselves as agents of social change”

synonyms:   medium, means, instrument, vehicle;

In order for change to occur in the direction and manner that is planned to enable targeted future value, having the influence of an “agent” means prioritizing its use in ways that have a “surface” all too familiar and a “beneath the surface” that too easily can mean failure.

  1. The direction of a change can be thought of in a linear way; we all know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The problem with that ambition for simplicity over complication is that it encourages drawing the line between the wrong points.

Linearity carries the connotations of efficiency and decisiveness, which in turn encourages a kind of “straightforward” accountability that seems like cause-and-effect.

But the path actually available between point A and point B may in no way be straightforward. Tangents, meanders, backsliding, pausing, and even just getting lost are all possibilities in journeys that are extended in length and/or in steepness. Navigation is the practice that a skilled agent must bring to the environment of change; accountability makes sense in terms of the influence of navigation.

  1. The plan of a change is like a map. Most often, however, while the map is great for communicating intent and choice, it often achieves that usefulness by either actively ignoring other features of reality or assuming that things not on the map will not themselves have effectively significant influence.

Agents come with a default responsibility for being the leader of events that constitute desired change, and because of that, they have the default responsibility to evoke agreement with the plan. But the most challenging factor against that mode of effort is, simply, the influence of other leaders.

Here, the key problem is that leadership responsibility does not necessarily translate into authority. Meanwhile, competition among different holders and types of authority is a fundamental characteristic of the “landscape” of change. The change Agent, first of all, must discover ways of facilitating what bluntly said is a sharing of power. Where authority is the key to addressing the supply-and-demand dynamics within a change effort, circumstantial competition between authorities can decide whether the “organization” for the effort is fed or starved.

  1. The target of a change is, of course, describable as a future state that is distinctively different from a prior (current) state. But all notions of future state differentiation are, of course, relative to what people think the current state is. The more different stakeholders there are in the future state, the more explicit the current stakeholder “starting” positions need to be.

Defining a future state can be far more complex than laying an attractive vision or measure (objective) on the table. Not only do different kinds of stakeholders have virtually different starting points, but mis-characterizing a party’s stake means not knowing where they are starting.

The key point in this observation is that before a target can really make sense, a major effort to accurately detect true starting points must succeed. Success here, as influenced by the Agent, means that the identified stakeholders agree that their represented starting points are correctly identified. When these interests are evident, the target of the change is far less important than the design of the change, by which the architecture underlying the ongoing developments of the change effort are logically modeled for both viability and feasibility.

  1. The value of the future state is usually derived from both Strategy and Requirements. These elements are what normally provoke the allocated investment in the change effort, so naturally, the return on that investment will reasonably be seen as “satisfying” both the requirements and the strategy.

By definition, value is the significance that is acknowledged in a difference. But what is it about the change that tells us how long the obtained difference will be significant?

Furthermore, change is increasingly necessary to carry out frequently, and not all changes will be clearly supportive of each other.

A change Agent actually has a fundamentally different responsibility from a change Broker.



  1. a person who buys and sells goods or assets for others.

synonyms:   dealer, broker-dealer, agent, negotiator, trafficker;


  1. arrange or negotiate (a settlement, deal, or plan).

“fighting continued despite attempts to broker a ceasefire”

synonyms:   arrange, organize, orchestrate, work out, thrash out, hammer out, settle, clinch, contract, pull off, bring off/about

That is, many “empowered” Agents are actually expected by their sponsor to be Brokers, evaluated on the delivery of results. But an organization’s self-change is only one way to obtain a result. And, if change were possible without Agents, then by definition Agents wouldn’t be needed. The Agent’s actual responsibility is about creating the ability to change, not about the deliverable called the future value of the change. The value created by the Agent is a stakeholder-based capability, not compliance to a strategy or requirement.

Going back to the original statement: in order for change to occur in the direction and manner that is planned to enable targeted future value… the Change Agent is primarily about the manner of enablement.

That work occurs in an environment that may feature critical challenges going disguised or mandated, including:

  • inflexibility of expectations,
  • competition among authorities,
  • underestimated incompatibilities or priorities,
  • mis-use or mis-casting of roles.

Rather than focusing on the direction, plan, target, and future value of a deliverable, the Change Agent must know that navigating, facilitating, designing, and enabling are the foundation of the work.

[photo credit:]