RELATE - Stage 1

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BUILD GOOD RELATIONS WITH THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO HELP

The change agent must develop good relations with key members of the system and assist members to relate better among themselves to the point that they are capable of collective action. Clearly this does not all happen quickly. Rather, as the change effort proceeds, the change agent reaches out to more and more members of the system, and, as members come to grips with the concern and the challenge of problem solving, they become more interconnected and more able to collaborate.


A strong creative relationship can carry a change program through the most difficult obstacles. Your relationship with a prospective client system must be carefully planned and thought through if you are going to succeed with a project. This stage provides some specific criteria to help you assess your relationship with a client. If you know where you stand and know how your client sees you, you will be in a better position to build this relationship as the change effort progresses.

‘Relate’ involves two connected major tasks:

One. Understand the client as a social system, how the people and component social parts relate to one another, and to the larger social world in which they are embedded, and​

Two. Understand and manage your relationship to the client.

Stage 1.1 Who is the Client?

The term "client" simply designates the group of people who you are trying to help.     This group may be referred to as a "system" if they seem to have common goals and are trying to work together to achieve those goals. Sometimes it will not be entirely clear just who the client is. We often find that we cannot work effectively with one group unless, at the same time, we are working with others to whom they are related. This network of relations can get pretty complicated and unmanageable. Therefore, it is important at the outset to define who the client is. This boils down to three basic questions:

  • What group are you going to work with directly?
  • Who are the other groups to whom your direct client is related?
  • What are your expectations and responsibilities to these other groups?

What are the norms of the client system?

Boundaries of various kinds define any client system because they separate people who are 'members' from those who are 'outside.'Some boundaries are physical and obvious - like the wall and the barbed wire fence - but most boundaries are less visible. For example, the members of any social group share a number of common beliefs, values, and rules of behavior. These shared ideas or thoughts are the "norms" of the group. They delineate what it means to be "us" instead of "them." A change agent should become familiar with as many of the norms of the prospective client system as possible. He or she should know how sharply these norms are defined and how strictly they are adhered to by different members. Although these shared beliefs and behaviors are seldom unique, they may be viewed as unique by the members. Most social systems maintain their group identity partly through the mechanism of local pride, which identifies what "we" have as special, as high status, as most important and most relevant. This belief that "we are unique" can be a major stumbling block to any program for change; it may hinder both the awareness of a need for change and the acceptance of innovations from "outside."

Who are the leaders?

In attempting to establish a satisfactory relationship, an understanding of the formal leadership structure is also important. Some systems are only loosely and vaguely structured while others have a strict chain of command. The more clearly defined and structured the leadership pattern, the more critical it is for us to establish solid relationships with the leaders.

Who are the influentials?

In addition to the formal chains of command, there are many informal channels and leadership structures. It is most important that the change agent know the informal leaders. You should know the "influentials," those key people to whom others turn for new ideas. Most social systems contain such "opinion leaders," respected friends and colleagues who set the standard for the group even though they may not have formal status as "leaders" or "supervisors."

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Who are the gatekeepers?

The change agent may also find certain individuals who hold key strategic positions with respect to the flow of new ideas and information. Such gatekeepers play a critical role in innovation and they may be distinct from the formal leadership and opinion leadership. In Education, the librarian, the guidance counselor, or the assistant principal may hold little formal power, but they may still be in key positions because they control channels of information on certain topics.

With whom should you choose to work?

Most change agents find themselves in the position of having to select from the entire client system only a few members with whom they will be able to work directly throughout the change effort. Successful change agents have found it wise to try to include people who represent the following system characteristics:


  • opinion leadership,
  • formal authority,
  • representative of major factions or vested interests,
  • public relations ability, and
  • credibility and respectability.

By keeping in mind these major characteristics you can identify direct clients who will be very effective in aiding change efforts. With such people working on your side, you will have a good chance of influencing the entire client system. In choosing this "change team," however, you should not forget a sixth criterion, which in some ways is more important than all the others. This is compatibility with you. If you cannot work together effectively as friends and colleagues, your project will be in trouble.

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Diagram your client as a social network and your place in relation to that network

Take a look at Figure, suggesting a school as a possible client with two key subgroups and a variety of connections, weak and strong. This figure shows the change agent's first approach to a client system, which might be a school. The most accessible point initially might be the office of the principal or it might be one or another teacher; rarely, if ever, a student. An important consideration will be the degree of internal integration and the real center of power with regard to the type of innovation you have in mind. Is it the principal and administrative staff or is it the teachers? Regardless of which it is, the change agent will also need to know whether these two potential sources of power are:


      well-connected to each other,
     in harmony or conflict, and
     fully in charge of the system as a whole.


Can you chart such a diagram to represent you and your prospective client?


1. Try to identify opinion leaders and other key actors on your chart.

2. Then pinpoint your own position and who you are connected to.

3. Then, looking at your chart, ask yourself these questions:


Am I connected to people who can really change this system?
Are the internal connections among subgroups, including teachers to students, strong enough to support effective communication and commitment to a change process?
Are the barriers to outside influence (represented by the solid ellipses) permeable enough that I can get a fair hearing for new ideas?
What changes in internal structure or connections or barriers would make this a better system (consider both weakening and strengthening)?

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Stage 1.2 Relating to the Larger Social Space

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What are the norms in the community?

No group of human beings is completely isolated from the influence of "outsiders." All systems and organizations exist within a context of other systems of which they are a part and upon which they are dependent. Therefore, as a change agent you must not only consider the characteristics of the particular client you are serving, but you must also consider the nature of the community, the larger social system of which your client is a part. 

Assuming that you are new to the system and are just beginning your relationship, there are three questions about this larger system that you must be able to answer with some degree of specificity:

  • Who are the most powerful and influential people in the community?
  • How do these people usually react to change (e.g., open, neutral, defensive)?
  • How can these people be influenced to endorse the change effort?

Who are the influentials in the community?

If you are able to review the history of the community, you will usually be struck by the prominence of certain groups - pressure groups, key individuals, and basic institutions - that have had a very strong influence over what has gone on in the  past. Business owners, school board members, local political leaders, department chiefs, clerics, social clubs and charitable organizations of various kinds each may have a say or a stake in any kind of change. What is their relative strength to advance, interrupt, or redirect a change effort? Inside or outside pressure from any source, (including you!) can lead to increased conflict within the client system; it can create an atmosphere of rigidity and complacency. You must be sensitive to the likely effects of these different "outside" pressures, for you will need to be able to make a quick assessment of the relative potency of various forces while you are in the process of developing the relationship.

What is the community leadership like?

Is the leadership cohesive? Does it work as a harmonious system or is it factional and strife-ridden? Or is it merely diffuse and weak? Can an outside change agent safely make contact directly or should he/she work through emissaries? If leadership is factional, are all factions approachable? Furthermore, are there specific kinds of conventions that must be observed when dealing with the leaders of each faction?

What percentage of your efforts should be devoted to these outside forces?

The effort you expend in identifying and dealing with these outside social forces will vary greatly from case to case. Sometimes, it may only be necessary to make a casual accounting of these external forces. Nevertheless, the testimony of countless change agents suggests that these outside forces are almost invariably underrated in the early stages of a project. 


Figure 1-2 suggests some of the complexity of social forces which can effect change within the environment in which you find yourself.  It does not indicate which forces are likely to be dominant in any given situation. This will probably vary depending on the concern on which you have chosen to work on. Some of these groups will have a viewpoint and identifiable norms relevant to this change topic or any change in general. Some may be merely irrelevant. Others may be sleeping giants that you may not want to awake.  As in the case of Figure 1-1, take out a piece of paper and try listing the outside forces and groups that might be relevant to your situation. If possible, show how they overlap and inter-relate. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • How strong are connections between your client and the larger community? Is there a tight bond or do the two systems operate  independently?
  • Where does the real power lie? Who is really in charge? Who calls the shots?
  • Are there community factions which toss issues back and forth?
  • Are there certain issues on which there is community-wide consensus?



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Stage 1.3 Where Are You?

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Defining And Managing Your Own Role

If customers can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. Clearly list and describe the services you offer. Also, be sure to showcase a premium service.

WITH WHOM SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO WORK?

Most change agents find themselves in the position of having to select from the entire client system only a few members with whom they will be able to work directly throughout the change effort. Successful change agents have found it wise to try to include people who represent the following system characteristics:


  • opinion leadership,
  • formal authority,
  • representative of major factions or vested interests,
  • public relations ability, and
  • credibility and respectability.


By keeping in mind these major characteristics you can identify direct clients who will be very effective in aiding change efforts. With such people working on your side, you will have a good chance of influencing the entire client system. In choosing this "change team," however, you should not forget a sixth criterion, which in some ways is more important than all the others. This is compatibility with you. If you cannot work together effectively as friends and colleagues, your project will be in trouble.

DIAGRAM YOUR CLIENT AS A SOCIAL NETWORK AND YOUR PLACE IN RELATION TO THAT NETWORK

ake a look at Figure 1-1, suggesting a school as a possible client with two key subgroups and a variety of connections, weak and strong. This figure shows the change agent's first approach to a client system, which might be a school. The most accessible point initially might be the office of the principal or it might be one or another teacher; rarely, if ever, a student. An important consideration will be the degree of internal integration and the real center of power with regard to the type of innovation you have in mind. Is it the principal and administrative staff or is it the teachers? Regardless of which it is, the change agent will also need to know whether these two potential sources of power are:


  • well-connected to each other,
  • in harmony or conflict, and
  • fully in charge of the system as a whole.


Can you chart such a diagram to represent you and your prospective client?


  1. Try to identify opinion leaders and other key actors on your chart.
  2. Then pinpoint your own position and who you are connected to.
  3. Then, looking at your chart, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I connected to people who can really change this system?
  • Are the internal connections among subgroups, including teachers to students, strong enough to support effective communication and commitment to a change process?
  • Are the barriers to outside influence (represented by the solid ellipses) permeable enough that I can get a fair hearing for new ideas?
  • What changes in internal structure or connections or barriers would make this a better system (consider both weakening and strengthening)?


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Stage 1.4 Where Are You Starting From?

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What Is Your Relationship at the Very Beginning?

A new change project seldom represents a completely new beginning. Here, as in most of the affairs of life, past is prolog. The success of a client's past encounters with change and with change agents will greatly color the success of future relations with you. When starting out on a new project, you are likely to be in one of four situations:


  • the blank slate, no prior relationship with the client;
  • reestablishing a formerly good relationship;
  • reestablishing an uncertain or ambiguous relationship; or
  • redefining an existing on-going relationship.


Each of these situations has special advantages and disadvantages.

The Blank Slate

A good relationship is a complex and delicate bridge, very difficult and expensive to build and very important to maintain. One can only really appreciate this fact when starting a completely new effort. In a relationship, nothing can be taken for granted. You must be acutely aware of norms and values, leadership, influence patterns, and so forth, while at the same time you are maintaining an image of complete trust and serene confidence. The number of concerns which will tax your energy and absorb your attention is greatly multiplied.

A completely new relationship is beset by a host of uncertainties and unknown quantities. The change agent is faced with the task of acquiring information from every available source, while at the same time making crucial decisions about the project. Such decisions will inevitably be based on partial and distorted knowledge which may make or break the project. Needless to say, it is a delicate task.

On the other hand,, there are many benefits in the brand new relationship. First of all, the new change agent is not initially identified with any special internal faction. Thus, the change agent may have a chance to become and to remain an objective observer as well as a friend. Secondly, the change agent may derive special benefits from his or her initial "guest" status. For a complete newcomer, even potential enemies will be polite and will not try to shout him/her down or shove him/her out without a fair hearing; he/she may be granted a kind of honeymoon period during which he/she is relatively free from critical scrutiny and harsh judgments. If you sense that most members of your client system start out with this open-minded attitude, you should take full advantage of the opportunity to assure all factions of your own open-mindedness and eagerness to bea friend and helper to all. A new face may suggest to the clients that new things are truly possible, whereas an old face with new ideas may merely be seen as an old face with old ideas.

Re-establishing a good relationship

If the client already knows you and values your past service, you have a very strong base from which to begin a new change project. Such an advantageous starting point, however, should not be taken for granted. The cautious change agent might ask the following ques­tions in preparing for a new project with an old client:


  • Does the client still view that former relationship as positive?
  • Are aspects of the relationship in need of improvement?
  • Have there been any intervening events which could have muddied the waters (e.g., change of leadership, changed fiscal climate)?
  • Could the nature of the prior relationship lead the client system to any erroneous expectations (e.g., were you seen as a change agent before?)?


By preparing in advance to deal with such potential snags, you can insure that your relationship will continue to grow -from a solid base.

Re-establishing an uncertain relationship

It is difficult, but not impossible, to make a fresh start with a client with whom the prior relationship was problematic. In such a situation it is mandatory to create a positive atmosphere and confidence in the 'new you.’ The client must be led to believe that the prospects for success are now much better. You can evaluate the probabilities for success by answering the following questions:


            Have you made an adequate analysis of problems in the prior relationship?

  • Has anything been done in the interim to correct any of these?
  • Have you attempted to build a new image of yourself as a change agent, and to instill new expectations among your clients?
  • What, if anything, has happened to the client in the interim that would alter the prospects of success - either positively or negatively?


If the previous encounter was, in fact, a failure, it would be unwise to begin all over again before the problems in that relationship are resolved and new expectations are instilled. Even then you should have evidence that a new start is likely to be successful despite past experience. Examples of such evidence might be:-

  • a major change in the leadership of the client system;
  • a change in the political climate;
  • a change in the fiscal climate;
  • an improvement in your own status;
  • recognition, (sincere; verbal, preferably public) by the leadership that you are now seen in a new role and are newly appreciated in that role.

Redefining an existing, ongoing relationship

Very frequently, in assuming the role of change agent, you are moving out of a previously held role with which the client system has firmly identified you. This is almost always true of the change agent who emerges from the client system, itself, as the teacher or administrator who becomes director of a new project or program. Special suspicions and resentments can build among peers if it is perceived that:


  • you are gaining power over others, especially your peers;
  • you are receiving special recognition, perhaps undeserved in the eyes of peers;
  • you have access to resources (financial or other), that others don't have, or that they feel they have equal claim to;
  • you are being relieved of other, perhaps onerous, duties in order to perform in your new role.


Modifying or redefining an existing relationship may require a good deal of diplomatic skill and sensitivity to human relations. The change agent has to be especially aware of the perceptions of all the key persons and interest groups who constitutes the client system and of the relevant outsiders as well. To properly reconstitute your image you may have to consider doing each of the following:

  • Inform key persons that you have assumed a new and different role.
  • Solicit concrete signs of recognition from key persons that their relationship to you is new, and that they accept this fact.
  • Make  sure you are sufficiently comfortable in performing this new change agent role so that you will not slip back into "old role" behavior if, for example, your associates start making demands of you to perform in your old role. The need for training and practice in the skills of relating WELL. to clients is nowhere more apparent than in the situation which requires
  •  you to modify an existing relationship.

Stage 1.5 Inside or Outside?

Although such distinctions are not always clear, change agents have long debated the relative advantages of beginning as an insider or an outsider. When all the pros and cons are tallied, however, neither position seems to be clearly superior. A recounting of the major advantages and disadvantages of each may be helpful.



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THE INSIDE CHANGE AGENT

The insider has these advantages

  • .... knows the system: knows where the power lies, where the strategic leverage points are; is better able than a newcomer to identify the gatekeepers, the opinion leaders, and the innovators .
  • .... speaks the language, literally and figuratively; knows the special ways members discuss and refer to things; has the accent, the tone, and the style .
  • .... understands the norms (the commonly held beliefs, attitudes, behaviors) and, at least in part, probably follows and believes many of them .
  • .... identifies with the system's needs and aspirations. The insider agent's cares are the system's cares. Thus, there is a personal incentive for helping .
  • .... is a familiar figure, a known quantity. Most of what the insider agent does is understandable and The insider also has these disadvantages
  • may lack perspective .. may not be able to see the system as a "whole" because of the agent's particular place and perspective within the system.
  • may not have the special knowledge or skill relevant to the innovation. The agent may not have had enough training or experience to be a true expert.
  • may not have an adequate power base (unless the agent is at the top (as some are). The agent's plans may be thwarted by superiors or competing peers.
  • may have to live down past failures or jealousy by some for past successes.
  • may not have the independence of movement often required to be effective. The obligations of membership may limit the energy required in the new role.
  • usually faces task of redefining relationships with the other members.
  • In assuming the new role, the change agent must be able to change the expectations of associates about their appropriate role and behavior. As noted in the previous section, this is sometimes difficult.

The insider also has these disadvantages

  • may lack perspective .. may not be able to see the system as a "whole" because of the agent's particular place and perspective within the system.
  • may not have the special knowledge or skill relevant to the innovation. The agent may not have had enough training or experience to be a true expert.
  • may not have an adequate power base (unless the agent is at the top (as some are). The agent's plans may be thwarted by superiors or competing peers.
  • may have to live down past failures or jealousy by some for past successes.
  • may not have the independence of movement often required to be effective. The obligations of membership may limit the energy required in the new role.
  • usually faces task of redefining relationships with the other members.
  • In assuming the new role, the change agent must be able to change the expectations of associates about their appropriate role and behavior. As noted in the previous section, this is sometimes difficult.

THE OUTSIDE CHANGE AGENT

The outsider has these advantages

  • .... starts fresh in many cases and is not burdened by negative stereotypes .
  • .... is in a position to have perspective; the outsider can look at the client system objectively and thus may be able to see problems that the insider would not see.
  • ... is able to identify needs and opportunities which insiders would be unable to perceive. Moreover, insiders often have a special axe to grind. They tend to see this or that problem as most pressing because it is the problem which impinges upon them most directly. The outsider, on the other hand, can look at the problems of all members collectively and, thus, make a more objective diagnosis. Outsiders are not always so objective, of course. Often, indeed, they are heavily invested in the adoption of particular innovations and, consequently, the stressing of certain needs. Nevertheless, the outsider is in the position to be objective about diagnosis.
  • ... is independent of the power structure in the client system. The outsider always has the option of pulling out if and when such action is deemed necessary. The outsider is not compelled to identify with any particular faction and is not forever threatened or inhibited by superior authorities.
  • .... is in a position to bring in something genuinely new. An outsider is more likely to have had the opportunity to gain expertise beyond that which the client system already possesses.

The outsider also has these disadvantages

  • .... is a stranger and represents a potential threat. What the outsider will do is unknown and unpredictable; it might cause discomfort, conflict, or some sort of disturbance to the natural order of things .
  • .... may lack insider knowledge; i.e., may not understand the system, its  norms, or values, especially those which are deeply held but unspoken.
  • .... may not "care enough, i.e., may not be able to identify adequately with the needs of the client. The pain is not his or her pain, so he or she may be relatively indifferent to the needs which the client feels most acutely. Even if this is not true, this may be the perception.
  • .... may get trapped unwittingly into internal strife, e.g., be seen as belonging to one side or another.

THE INSIDE-OUTSIDE TEAM

Have you opened a new location, redesigned your shop, or added a new product or service? Don't keep it to yourself, let folks know.In order to capitalize on the advantages and avoid the problems of both insider and outsider, many experienced change agents have suggested that the best solution is a "change agent team" in which both insiders and outsiders work together. Thus, the insider who is initiating a change effort would do well to enlist some­one from the outside to work as a collaborator. Such an outside person could provide an "expert" legitimacy for the insider's efforts in addition to contributing some real expertise. This outsider could provide an objective perspective on the world in which the inside change agent is working. And the outside expert could give moral support to the insider whose efforts to do what is "right" for the system are being received by colleagues with something less than enthusiasm.

Conversely, the outsider who initiates change would do well to enlist the inside support of some member who both understands the client system and is familiar with the change process. Preferably, this insider would be someone with reasonable security and status within the system, either as a leader, an influential, or a gatekeeper. Any selection of members for the inside-outside team should try to maximize the strengths of both positions in the service of innovation.


Depending on the resources, change teams can bring in members and advisors to serve a number of different functions: special content expertise, legitimacy with one or another faction, or skills in group process or change process. Change agents and change teams may themselves find it very desirable to involve outside process consultants.

Stage 1.5.1 Assembling Your Change Team

Customers have questions, you have Lone wolf status is not good for a change project even if you think you are smarter than everyone else and know better what to do and how to do it than anyone else. Even just a two-person team is better than a lone wolf.

Quantity: depends on change magnitude. The more ambitious and all consuming the change contemplated, the larger and stronger your change team will have to be

Quality: Expertise, Credentials, Experience


Insider Credibility: Knows and is liked by many insiders

Insider Connectedness


  • To authority (if you are not “the boss”)
  • To lower levels of the system (especially if you are “the boss.”

Outside connectedness

  • To power
  • To financial resources, potential,  in place, short-long

Relevant demographics: age, sex, identity, affiliation

Experience within the system

Experience with change and the adoption of innovations in other systems, other change projects, same content, different contents



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Stage 1.6 Managing Initial Encounters

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A concern may be felt by just one member of a system and still be a legitimate basis foA relationship builds on the first encounter. What happens in the initial contacts between you and the client, how he or she sees you and how he or she feels about you initially will determine whether or not you will be able to proceed into any other stage of problem-solving. In a sense you are a package which the client is going to buy. Most clients want to look the package over and read the label first. The first contacts are used by the client and by you to size up each other and take a quick first reading. Therefore, you must plan and prepare for these encounters with special care. Four considerations are paramount:


  • friendliness,  
  • familiarity,
  • rewardingness, and
  • responsiveness

Friendliness

A change agent is an intruder, and as for any intruder the client must ask: "Does this person mean us well or ill?" The question may seem absurd to the change agent; after all, you know you're a nice person. To the client, however, there is nothing obvious about this unless he or she starts with a high trust for strangers. On the other hand, initial criteria of friendliness are usually not hard to meet: a smile, a firm handshake, a straight look in the eye, a warm greeting, making a firm mental note of the name of the person we are greeting and using the first name whenever we can. It also helps to make some positive and sincere comment of recognition such as some special attribute or accomplishment of the school, the place, or preferably the person himself. Most of this probably falls in the category of etiquette, but it is not a trivial in the first encounter.

Familiarity

As a person who has deliberately chosen to make himself or herself an agent, you are different, Yet effective change agents are usually similar to their clients in most respects or are seen so by the client. Therefore, a change agent should try to be a familiar object to the client in ways that are not important to his/her mission. In most cases this means at least in dress, outward appearance, speech, and bearing.


It also may help to identify some common interests, which are far removed from any change project, such as sports, entertainments, or politics, that is, if you are both likely to be on the same side of an issue. Jokes or humorous comments, which are likely to be shared, are especially effective in draining out some of the tension that will inevitably be in the situation. In any case, small talk, even about the weather, helps to make you a familiar object in initial encounters.

Rewardingness

The change agent should find the earliest opportunity to do something for the client that will be perceived as helpful or useful. The point of such an act is not the help itself, but the idea that is planted that "this person can be helpful." Usually this token reward can be merely in the form of a useful piece of knowledge relevant to a problem that the client is concerned about. It might be a book or a pamphlet or perhaps a useful lead to a person or a technique, which the client had not thought of.

Responsiveness

The change agent should always be a good listener, but this is especially true at the beginning of a relationship. Most importantly, you should show that you are a good listener by nodding if you understand, by asking for clarifications when you don't, and by indicating verbally and non-verbally that you are interested and care about what the client is saying, share his feeling, and want to be helpful in whatever way you can. One specific way in which the change agent can indicate responsiveness without commitment to solutions is by repeating back to the client what the agent thinks the client has said but in different words. This gives the client a chance to hear his or her own thoughts from another and to correct misunderstandings. In any case, it shows the client that the change agent is at least trying to listen.


This echoing type of response communication is a special skill that should be practiced and learned by all change agents until it comes naturally. It is especially worth the effort where:


  • client is about to make a major commitment of time, money, people, or effort;
  • you need to get across a rather complicated set of ideas;
  • you suspect that the client is having a hard time hearing your message; 
  • there appears to be a conflict between you and the client over a key issue.


These first steps in relating to a client might fit in the category of "good politics" or "good public relations." They should not be taken as the substance of change agentry but only as preliminary and sometimes nonessential preliminary niceties. As soon as possible you should start moving toward a serious dialogue on problems. This dialogue might be seen as a series of cycles of problem-solving starting with something small and manageable which the client sees as manifestly urgent. Successful problem-solving at this micro level cements the relationship and builds the trust necessary to move to issues that are more serious, systemic, and controversial.



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Stage 1.7 What is the Ideal Relationship?

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Good relationships have no formula and each has its own unique dimensions, but the best have several common features. We suggest nine attributes that would make an ideal base for change agent-client relations. Use these nine points as a checklist and a yardstick to assess your relationship. And don't just do it once; look at this list again and again as you progress through the change project and ask yourself if you are continuing to relate well to your client, improving on weak areas, and making the relationship ever stronger in the service of the change.

Reciprocity

The relationship should be one in which both parties are able to give and take. To the extent that there is transfer of information, there should be transfer both ways, from agent to client and client to agent. This reciprocity increases the mutual appreciation of the problem and makes the diagnosis more accurate. One-way relationships tend to breed dependency and inhibit the initiative of the client to help himself or herself.

Openness

Openness to new ideas is the sine qua non for innovation. Both the client and the change agent should be willing and ready to receive new inputs from each other. There are several dimensions to openness that should be considered, e.g.,


  • openness to receive new ideas;
  • active eagerness to seek out new ideas;
  • willingness to share new ideas with others;
  • openness to listen to the problems and ideas of others;
  • openness to give authentic feedback to each other; and
  • an active desire for self-renewal.

Realistic expectations

All too often the client will entertain the belief that the change agent is some sort of miracle worker, and sometimes the change agent will not discourage this view. The client may imagine that enormous benefits will come from the innovation. At later stages of the change process these unrealistic expectations may return to haunt the project, giving undue disillusionment and discouragement to the client and change agent alike. An important rule of change agentry is, therefore, to set reasonably realistic expectations from the outset. Do not oversell yourself or the innovation.

Expectations of reward

The change agent should not, on the other hand, set expectations too low, because it is equally important to give the client some reason for optimism, an idea of how much bette things would be if the innovation were to be successful. The change agent must be seen as providing a valuable resource which will solve problems and provide the client with a significantly improved state of affairs. Sometimes it may be necessary to start out the relationship by providing some token to the client of a future reward. Demonstrations or pilot programs sometimes serve this purpose because they show the client what can be done without committing to major involvement in time and expense. The client needs some tangible evidence that you are a helpful person. If you can provide the client with even the smallest bit of such evidence, you will be nurturing the belief that the relationship will be rewarding in the long run as well as the short run.

Structure

Successful relationships must have some structural basis, some definition of roles, working procedures, the flow and integration of tasks and responsibilities, and expected outcomes. There will always be the question of how much structure is advisable and at what stages. Judging how much structure lies at the heart of skilled change agentry. Some degree of definition of the situation and the understandings between the parties is always desirable, but it is also desirable to be somewhat open-ended, to leave room for changing the relationship as you go along, expanding it in some areas and I perhaps contracting it in others.


The formalization of structure in a contract is often advisable, particularly where the change agent sees certain aspects of the relationship as problematic, as, for example, when there is reason to doubt the commitment of the leadership of the client system. In any case, such contracts should probably be open-ended on a reciprocal basis. That is, they should specify a sequence of points in the process at which the project could be terminated or redefined by mutual consent.



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Stage 1.8 Danger Signals

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At best, the change relationship can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but there can be times when it degenerates into a stagnant and meaningless exercise which produces only frustration and disappointment. Sometimes, you may feel that you have to go ahead with a project regardless of an unpromising relationship. However, there are other times when it is really important for you to question whether to start at all. Below, we have listed a few circumstances which should tip you off to the existence of a bad relationship and a probable failure of your change effort.

A long history of unresponsiveness to change

If the client is persistently indifferent, showing no interest either in changing himself or herself or in accepting innova­tions of any sort, then there is probably little point in spending much energy trying to help him or her. "Interest," of course, is sometimes hard to measure and you should not assume that the first try will be greeted with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, even though you may view your change agent talents as unique and your ability to bring about change as impressive, you would do well to study the past history of your prospective client in dealing with similar change efforts. If the system has persistently responded to change efforts with indifference or rejection, it is probably a signal that the system is a poor bet for future efforts.

The client wants to use you as a pawn

Sometimes clients will be eager to seek outside agents only to serve their special purposes in an internal power struggle. The change agent should be very wary of this common type of exploitation.

  • In rare instances, if you have your eyes wide open, you may be able to turn such a situation to your own advantage.

The client is already committed to a particular position

Sometimes a client will be eager to enlist the support of a change agent only to help prove a point or to affirm a position to which the client is already committed. Under such circumstances there is little opportunity for genuine reciprocity and real innovation in the client system.

The client is powerless in his or her own house

Sometimes the contact person in the client system will be eager to invite a change agent into the system, and will be open to new ideas and wholeheartedly committed to cooperation, even though he or she has no real power to effect change in others. Some client systems, for example, will be completely dominated by a remote and inaccessible leadership which is fundamentally hostile to change, while it allows a certain degree of latitude to the membership to "play games." This pattern is frequently found in bureaucratic business organizations controlled by conservative boards of directors or school districts controlled ultimately by unprogressive school boards

The client shows many signs of pathology or major incapacity

Change agents should learn to recognize certain signs of pathology in a client system which will make a continuing relationship difficult or impossible. Among such signs might be excessive rigidity or obsessive concern with particular kinds of issues, an excessive tendency to externalize conflicts and to see issues in rigidly black-and-white terms. The system may also suffer from some sort of incapacity, such as an inability to effectively assemble resources when needed, to communicate clearly, to assemble key members for important meetings, and to provide financial and administrative backup for inside members of the change team. Regrettably, such signs of incapacity may only reveal themselves long after the project is underway. However, if such signs do appear in large number in very early stages, it may signal to you as the change agent that your efforts will be wasted. On the other hand, no single one of these signs would necessarily indicate a "no-go" situation. Indeed, various signs of pathology and incapacity may be singled out by the change agent as targets for change effort.

Client responds negatively to your well-managed initial encounterThe initial encounter is partly a test of the client as well as the change agent. If you feel you have done everything right in presenting yourself as "friendly," "familiar," "rewarding," and "responsive" but are then greeted with hostility or indifference, this may bode ill for the future. On the other hand, you should be very cautious in drawing such a conclusion. Sometimes a tough exterior is simply one of the client's norms in dealing with initial encounters. It is important to assess the true feelings of the client, which may be at variance with outward appearance.



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Stage 1.9 Size Up - Sum Up

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How to size up your relationship?

If customers can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. Clearly list and describe the services you offer. Also, be sure to showcase a premium service.n Stage 1 we have tried to identify the major facts that should be considered by the change agent in establishing a good relationship with the client. We recognize, however, that most readers of this Guide will already be committed to various types of relationships that exhibit varying degrees of stability and promise. For such readers to make maximum use of the material presented here, they might ask themselves five questions to help size up their present relationship and give clues on how to make improvements.


  • Have you managed to build an inside-outside team?
    • Probably the most important single building block of effective change. 
  • Have you worked out a strategy for initial encounters?
    • Does it include friendliness, familiarity, reward, and responsiveness?
  • Can you identify in your situation the nine features of the ideal relationship?
    • Can you rate where you stand on each of these nine dimensions?
  • Do you suspect that any of the danger signals apply?
    • If yes, can you mitigate their effects? If too many are applicable, can you exit gracefully?
  • Assuming an on-going relationship, are you doing all that you can to protect and maintain that relationship?
    • Maintenance is far easier  than rebuilding.

Summary of Stage 1

Unquestionably, the successful relationship is the key to successful planned change. We hope that this chapter has provided a useful introduction to the essential features that make up such a successful relationship. We recognize, however, that the chapter cannot stand alone. A good relationship continues to build as it goes along. It will be strengthened by a successful collaborative effort in diagnosis and resource acquisition, and in selecting and installing the innovation. It will also be heavily dependent upon the personality and the skill of you, the change agent, and upon how clearly and adequately you have defined your own role.

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