Competencies and Resources for Organizational Change Agents

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    Much of the content
    of this topic came from this book:
    Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

    Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

    Focus and Scope of This Topic

    The purpose of this topic is to acquaint the reader with the various suggested types of mastery needed to successfully guide significant change in organizations, including whether it is a team, departmental unit or the overall organization. Often this mastery is strongly associated with the field of Organization Development. Thus, that field is often mentioned below. However, this mastery applies to any change agent seeking to guide significant change in organizations.

    The information on this topic is not sufficient to develop competencies in guiding successful significant change. Those competencies come from extensive experience in applying the information.

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    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Organization

    In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to organizational change and development. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the

    What is a Change Agent?

    A change agent is the person or team who is currently responsible for the overall change effort. It could be different people or different teams at different times during the change. For example, it could be a champion for change who encourages the change. Then it could be an expert on change who plans the change. Then it could be the leader in the organization who drives the change.

    What is a Competency?

    Wikipedia writes “Competence is the demonstrable characteristics that enable the performance of a job; for properly doing the job, the individual requires skills and knowledge essential for the set duties. A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees.”

    The “job” might be any important task or role in a person’s life and work. It is conventional to divide a competency into knowledge (new useful information), skills (application of that knowledge), and abilities (an intuitive or natural proficiency to do the job). Core competencies are sometimes referred to as the foundational competencies needed to have excellent abilities in the particular job.

    However, that conventional description is continually being analyzed and discussed with different emerging opinions.

    There is a vast range of suggested models, or frameworks, for developing certain competencies. Descriptions range from one sentence to many pages. Organizations often develop them when writing job descriptions. See

    Organizations’ Various Suggested Competencies for Change Agents

    Focused on the Broad Field of Organization Development

    Organization Development Program Director’s Program Review Criteria – This is a list of the suggested foundational elements that should be in programs to develop competencies in the foundations of Organization Development. (Created by Organization Development Program Directors at an Organization Development Network conference.)

    SlideShare – lists suggested Competencies of an Effective Organization Development Practitioner by Manu Melwin Joy.

    Institute of Organization Development’s – list of suggested competencies to become a World-Class Organization Development Interventionist. This list somewhat matches the self-assessment tool listed below: A Self-Assessment Tool for Organization Development Competencies (21st Century Version), Christopher Worley, William J. Rothwell and Roland Sullivan. It is “Supported by Don Cole and created for the Organization Development Institute.” (Don Cole and Roland Sullivan are some of the pioneering thought leaders in driving the field to look at competencies and levels of accreditation for the field.)

    Organization Development Interventions – While this is a very detailed list of the suggested interventions that a highly qualified Organization Development practitioner should have, it also serves as a good list of suggested competencies.

    Organization Development Network – is carefully developing a set of suggested competencies for Organization Development professionals called the Global Organization Development Practice Framework (a trademark of that Network). It defines “the differentiating competencies needed to succeed as an OD professional”. For now, it is a graphic of various categories. More detail is to be announced soon.


    Michigan State Extension Organizational Development’s – education program suggests competencies core competencies and administrative competencies specifically for extension agents.

    National Park Service – suggests competencies for their Organization Development Specialists specifically in their type of services.

    The reader could get more impressions of suggested competencies by reviewing various job openings and descriptions for Organization Development personnel. See Job Banks.

    Online Resources to Help Develop Competencies

    The following list of competencies has not been peer-reviewed or otherwise validated. However, they do appear in various other lists of competencies.

    Understand Yourself as an Instrument of Change

    See a video about best practices as a change agent; knowing your consulting style, biases, emotional intelligence and “lens” on organizations; knowing how you share
    feedback and conflict. From the Consultants Development Institute.

    Your nature and the way you choose to work has a significant impact on your client’s organization, whether you know it or not. You cannot separate yourself from your client’s organization as if you are some kind of detached observer. You quickly become part of your client’s system — the way the people and processes in the organization work with each other on a recurring basis. Thus, it is critical that you have a good understanding of yourself, including your biases (we all have them), how you manage feedback and conflict, how you react to others’ emotions, how you like to make decisions and solve problems, and how you naturally view organizations. The following articles will help you gain understanding of yourself, how you might prefer to work and how you actually do work.

    Maintain Professionalism and Ethical Principles

    See a video about principles for ethical and effective consulting, defining “success”,
    managing ethical and legal risks and boundaries, and what to do if encountering ethical or legal issues. From the Consultants Development Institute.

    Today, with the complex challenges faced by organizations and the broad diversity of values, perspectives and opinions among the members of those organizations, it is vital that change agents work from a strong set of principles to ensure they operate in a highly effective and ethical manner.

    Understand Best Practices in Organizations, Leadership and Management

    See a video about organizations, their major parts, how they are integrated and how they work — all from a very useful systems perspective. From the
    Consultants Development Institute.

    To begin guiding successful change, the change agent should have at least a broad understanding of the context of the change effort. This includes understanding the basic systems and structures in organizations, including their typical terms and roles, as well as the core practices in leadership and management. That is why courses in Organization Development often include one on organizational theory. The following broad categories of links will acquaint you with that basic understanding.

    Understand the Principles of Systems Thinking

    The past few decades have seen an explosion in the number of very useful tools to help change agents to effectively explore, understand and communicate about organizations, as well as to guide successful change in those organizations. Tools from systems theory and systems thinking especially are a major breakthrough. Even if the change agent is not an expert about systems theory and thinking, even a basic understanding can cultivate an entire new way of working. The following link is to many well-organized resources about systems thinking and tools.
    Systems Thinking, Systems Tools, and Chaos Theory

    In that topic, the subtopic, Systems Thinking in Organizations, is particularly useful to understand.

    Know Emerging Trends Affecting Organizations

    See a video about various driving forces causing major changes in organizations, including in their cultures and structures, and in how they are governed, led and managed. This affects consultants, as well. From the Consultants Development Institute.

    There are numerous driving forces that are causing organizations to re-think how they operate and are structured. There are new paradigms in leading and managing that sharply contrast with how organizations have operated in the past. These changes also affect how change agents work with organizations. See

    Understand Core Practices in Performance Management

    See a video about what performance is, major levels of performance, 3-phase approach to developing performance, and characteristics of organizational effectiveness.
    From the Consultants
    Development Institute

    Organizational change should not be conducted for the sake of change. Organizational change efforts should be geared to improve the performance of organizations and the people in those organizations. Therefore, it is useful for change agents to have an understanding of what is meant by “performance” and various methods to manage organizational performance.

    Know How to Guide Successful Organizational Change

    See a video about language, types, models and roles in change; overcoming barriers to change; principles for changing systems; phases in change process; models for change; and core components of change plans. From the
    Consultants Development Institute

    Organizational change is often about changing a significant part or all of an organization. There is no one standard approach or model for guiding successful change. They range from highly planned and structured to spontaneous and unfolding. A highly skilled practitioner can utilize a variety of change models based on the nature and needs of the client’s organization.

    Master Your Skills in Consulting

    See a video about the phases of collaborative consulting, the goals and activities in each, and the roles of consultant and client. From the Consultants
    Development Institute

    The consulting activities in change management are often based on an overall action research approach. For example, a typical process would include phases such as contracting, discovery, action planning, implementation, final evaluation, and then termination. However, all of the phases are conducted in a highly collaborative way with the client and are often highly integrated. For resources to conduct each of the typical phases in the consulting process, see

    Be Acquainted With Types of Interventions – Know Where and How to Intervene

    Organizational change consultants use a variety of processes, approaches, methods, techniques and applications (or “interventions”) to increase performance in organizations. A practitioner should be acquainted with the purpose of each, as well as knowing where and how to intervene in an organization.

    Other Highly Recommended Topics

    Much of the content of this Library topic came from this book:
    Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

    For the Category of Organizational Development:

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