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Fellow Travellers on the Journey to Change

The personalities and preferences of innovators and change-makers are rarely discussed and when they are it’s not about implementation. So it was with some enthusiasm that we find an attempt to place the roles, preferences, and skills of implementers in a framework and discuss what these might mean.

Consultants at NOBL sought to ‘type’ those they’ve found at the implementation stage of the journey of change. There have been many different forms of this ‘innovation personality‘ game, but what made this list different was that it focused on the implementation of change. This is important because too often we focus on the creative and generative aspects of change-making, but far less on putting change in place.

In this article, I look at this idea of implementation types and what it might mean for practical use.

Implementation in Five Types

The five types, according to NOBL, are:

  1. Co-pilots. The people who have the skills to guide change and will help you to shape that change in practice.
  2. Champions. These are the people who use their enthusiasm and influence to rally others to change.
  3. Fence-sitters. This group isn’t fully convinced of what needs to be done or how and will commit once they see something happen. Seventy (70) percent of people are said by the authors to fit this type.
  4. Skeptics. This group is unsure and willing to vocalize their doubts.
  5. Cynics. Those that are in active opposition to the change are in this camp.

The recommended methods for working with these types are simple: shower the co-pilots with resources and attention, involve champions, engage skeptics, and essentially avoid the others.

Taken together, the key message is to spend your energy on those who are either supportive or unsure and ignore the rest.

I see problems with this approach and a few benefits as well.

Changing Our Change Agents

While this 5-person typology is not based on research (nor do the authors claim it to be), some aspects have ‘face validity.’ What stands out is that there are more people who are either neutral or against the innovation. This fits with my experience and reflects the quote below from Harvey Skinner:

The only people who welcome change are wet babies

Harvey Skinner, PhD

Change is often resisted or ignored. It takes energy to change and to integrate changes into activities and systems. Inertia is incredibly powerful for this reason, which is why I’m likely to agree with the assertion that most people are fence-sitters.

What about champions and co-pilots? I see these two groups a little differently. Champions are those with reputational capital and energy to spend and will do it with little prompting. These are leaders from the outset.

Co-pilots are more complicated individuals. I see a co-pilot as someone who’s helping shape the implementation as it happens. A co-pilot is someone who’s leading from the side. These people lead and follow the charge and co-create the plan as it unfolds.

Both co-pilots and champions are valuable because they each have skin in the game. Champions invest their reputation while co-pilots principally invest their energy. Both groups need to see a return on their investment, which is why evaluation is so critical. Evaluation allows us to document the activities, outputs, and outcomes associated with our attempts to make change happen. A mistake is to simply look to the end result, not the journey.

Innovation Implementation: The Role of Evaluation & Feedback

Evaluation is also what will help bring people down off the fence. If fence-sitters indeed make up the bulk of the workforce, then affecting them is critical to making transformation a reality and making it stick once implemented. It’s also the key to learning, which is at the core of innovation. Feedback allows us to learn, grow, adapt, and amplify what we do. Innovation is never certain and evaluation allows us to calibrate and refine what we’re doing. I am more likely to change when I get feedback that my efforts are making a difference.

I am likely to change when my contributions are made visible to others. Evaluation provides this.

When you bring in evaluation, document your actions, communicate your findings to the organization, and leverage the actions of your champions and co-pilots and you might find your next innovation launch to be successful.

The connection between evaluation, learning, innovation, and implementation is what I draw for my clients. If this is of need to you and you want to learn more, contact me and let’s grab a virtual coffee.

Photos by Krisjanis Mezulis on Unsplash and KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

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