Change agent is the common phrase or description for that person that leads, or is a key contributor to a change initiative. I suggest that a more appropriate term would be ‘Fire Starter’ because I think it provides a more descriptive term for the activities required to implement and institutionalize change. In thinking about the tools and the traits that are necessary to engage an organization in a successful redefinition the term fire starter conveys to me the drive, initiative and perseverance necessary to successfully institutionalize a major overhaul of an organization or implementation of major new systems or processes. Another implication that would not be too much of a stretch is that fire starter could also refer to the practice of burning the bridges so there is no way back from the change.
It seems to me that an institutional change initiative requires excitement and drive to lead and coorce through the ups and downs that will be experienced with any institutional change. In order to encourage the organization through the highs and the lows the agent must be dynamic, visionary and creative. Another key trait is a level of stamina that will be extremely necessary in order to sustain and drive the initiative through the highs and the lows. This in short is why I suggest that a more appropriate name would be fire starter - it convey a dynamic, visionary and creative individual with the stamina to maintain the institutional change.
This leads me to another aspect implied by the name fire starter and that as I mentioned previously is the practice of burning the bridges to the previous methods and practices to ensure there is no way back from the change. An institutional change is both hard to implement and then after implementation it is difficult to maintain until the new methods become ingrained in the practices of the institution. Let’s face it, change is hard and there will always be people that, for whatever reason, will tend to push back to the previous practices. The fire starter must be aware of these tendencies and also provide the encouragement to maintain the commitment to the new practices and procedures. I’m a big believer in the practice of burning the bridge behind you so there is no way to fall back to the previous practices.
This ‘burn the bridge’ concept is only a part of the equation to maintaining the change of course because people will always tend to move back to their areas of comfort. This is where the stamina and dynamic personality traits come into play. When I combine these traits together I think you can see why I suggest that the more appropriate name for this person is fire starter. I understand that a name does not mean that you will be successful, however sometimes a name conveys the concept that allows you to maintain and generate the interest necessary to be successful.
And now for the audience participation portion of the show…
Have your started or are you in the midst of an institutional change initiative? What are the key traits you have identified as required to support the initiative? Have you contemplated the name or phrase for the person leading your initiative?