Advocating for change in the workplace can be challenging, however the positive impacts of successfully implementing change are extremely rewarding. In an ideal world, when an opportunity to improve the workplace is highlighted, it gets full support from management and is implemented. In reality, managers may not fully understand why the change needs to happen, what the time and cost implications are, and may not have the power alone to make the change. Change in the workplace can be nuanced and complex – the timing and internal politics need to be considered to ensure that the change is lasting and impactful.

Internal Networking and Support

In general, to make a change happen, you need the right support, and the right people to take an idea forward. Typically, the people you need to engage to make the change include:

  • Advocates – Advocates are people with ideas about what must change but may not have direct institutional power or resources to make the change happen. 
  • Sponsors – Senior leaders who can support the change and exert influence. They need to believe in the reason for the change, and they can help an advocate prepare a business case to explain the why and how the change should occur.
  • Change Agents – People who will facilitate and implement the change by positively influencing the targets of the change and other stakeholders.
  • Targets of Change – The people who must accept the change. They may be resistant to the change if they are not fully engaged or do not understand the benefits.

This is where internal networking skills can make a big difference. Asking for someone’s support is much easier when a relationship is already established. Knowing the people around you, what power they have to create change, and their influence on others is extremely beneficial when implementing change. Ask your colleagues to go for a coffee, rotate who you sit with at lunch, and get to know people outside of your area and in different leadership positions. 

Connect with the people that can help you create change – advocates, sponsors, change agents and the targets of the change. And remember to be open to those individuals who might not seem to be change-makers at first glance – everyone has a voice to advocate and support change. 

Get Your Message Across

To engage supporters for your cause, you’ll need to build a strong business case for why the change needs to happen. This isn’t just about providing the facts, and having the data, but being able to present it in a compelling way for different audiences. Being able to share your experiences and story can be a great educational device and being able to present the positive impact of the change can really help!

It’s important to get your message across in a positive way that focuses on the benefits of the change. The change should address an issue that is important to you or those around you, and the first step is to communicate the impact that the issue has on you and others in the workplace.

Reach out to others to understand their perspectives and experiences related to this issue. This will help gain valuable insights to help communicate your message – especially in terms of the extent of the impact in your workplace. Understanding the perspectives of the targets of the change is also very important and will ensure everyone understands potential challenges that may need to be overcome so that the organization can realize the benefits of the change.

Some ways to engage people include: having informal discussions, discussing the issue with an employee resource group or at a team meeting, and using surveys to get broader perspectives on the issue. Engaging more people to understand the issue also creates momentum and helps get your message across for why the change is needed.

The tone of your message should focus on the related benefits for everyone in the organization. Depending on the change you are advocating for, some benefits might include: higher productivity, better decision making, enhanced transparency and accountability, more diverse talent and skills to solve problems, increased retention of employees, a greater sense of belonging for employees, and acknowledgment of the value that everyone brings to the organization.

Become an Advocate for Change

Focus on the benefits of change and become an advocate to lead change in your organization.  Explore our STEM Diversity Champions Toolkit to understand some of the issues that women in STEM and other underrepresented groups experience in the workplace.  Pick an issue that resonates with you and impacts the people around you.  Change is easier to advocate for if the change helps your organization achieve a goal it already has in place related to Diversity & Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability Policies.  

Follow these four key steps to lead change which include: 

1. DEFINE the Change:  What is the issue, why is the change needed and what are the benefits of the change. Engage all stakeholders to understand different perspectives. What is the problem you are trying to solve – and what does success look like?  What is the specific objective for the change and how will you measure it?

2. PLAN:  Engage all stakeholders to plan the change, how it will be implemented, and what resources are needed. Consider both the structural and cultural aspects of the change. Identify risks and develop plans to overcome challenges. Develop timelines for engagement, communication and training.

3. IMPLEMENT:  Enable leaders, change agents, other advocates and supporters of the change.  Implement the change, along with engagement, communications and training plans. Test the change and manage resistance using risk-mitigation plans. 

4. SUSTAIN:  Monitor the change and measure its impacts, including behaviours and outcomes.  Acknowledge and communicate successes. Apply continuous improvement principles to enhance and sustain the change. 

Our Learn More section includes more change management strategies and resources on how to lead change.