What's the lifespan of a change agent?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Last week, David Armano of Edelman Digital published an interesting post looking at the qualities needed for a good change agent, someone who promotes change within an existing business. It’s a term I identify with closely, as driving and promoting change are exactly what I’ve spent the last half decade doing. The most resonant phrase?

Change agents aren’t sprinters, they run marathons

Preach it, brother. 😉

It’s a good read, and I thoroughly recommend that you take the time to work through its ideas.

However, I was actually struck harder by a remark in the comments, if only because it resonated so strongly with my own life:

Nothing in here tells me why this is the year of the change agent. In fact, at a lot of companies that guy got laid off.

I don’t really hold with the first sentence, but I do with the second, and not just because that’s how I perceive what happened to me. Since I went public with my news, I’ve been amazed by how many people in broadly similar roles to me have confided that their change of job, or move into consulting, was triggered by exactly the same set of circumstances: redundancy. Media businesses in particular seem to have been pushing their change agents out of the door for the last 18 months to two years.

So, there’s a question here: what’s the lifespan of a corporate change agent? How long can companies tolerate people whose natural focus is shaking up and changing the business from within? Do they grow tired of them? Or do they decide that change is “done” at some point, and thus that a change agent is no longer needed? Is, in the end, a change agent a role better suited to a consulting business, brought in for periods of time to other businesses, than a permanent employee?

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. But these are questions I am most certainly asking myself as I figure out what’s next for me.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.