In this final week of the (virtual) School for Change Agents, Helen Bevan will focus on the characteristics and traits that will define change agents of the future.

In framing our thinking on this topic, my NHS Horizons colleagues and I often draw on insights provided by a cross-NHS research study reported in the Harvard Business Review in 2013.

In that report, Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro set out the network secrets of great change agents. Their research suggests that personal networks are a key variant between leaders who attempt to create workplace change but fail, and those who are ultimately successful. Among other points, they found that leaders who bridge disconnected groups and individuals are more effective at implementing dramatic reforms, while those with cohesive networks are better at instituting minor changes.

At the time, Battilana and Casciaro expressed considerable surprise at their own findings. They were taken aback by the evidence as to how little formal authority mattered relative to network centrality. Among the middle and senior NHS managers studied in the research, high rank did not improve the odds that their changes would be adopted. 

Here are the top three findings Battilana and Casciaro drew from their research:

  1. Formal authority may give you the illusion of power, but informal networks always matter.
  2. Make sure that the type of network you have matches the type of change you’re after. A bridging network helps drive divergent change; a cohesive network is preferable for non-divergent change.
  3. Always identify and cultivate fence-sitters, as they can be a powerful source of influence and support in helping you make the desired change.

We'll be exploring this, and related, themes in the final module of School as we move beyond our current frame for leadership development, change agency and transformation to thinking about future possibilities.

Why not join us for Module 5 of the School for Change Agents, on Thursday 15th March 2018 at 15:00 (UK time) to learn more? More details here.