Four Steps to Stand Up a Successful Change Network

Rachel Rainey

Let’s start with a question: why do change networks matter? Research shows that people get through organizational change by relying on their relationships with others in the workplace. While leaders play a key role in ensuring successful change, people need an informal place to share their fears and concerns in order to commit to the change later on.

A change network consists of change champions – individuals across the company who will advocate for the change. Standing up a change network requires an upfront investment, but champions are true differentiators in driving change adoption.

Below are four steps to developing a successful change network:

1) Select the Right Champions in the Right Way

Start by working with leaders to identify champions for your change network. You’ll want to ensure representation from across the business, and a good place to start is with the program’s steering committee.

Characteristics of a strong change champion:

  • Respected and liked by peers (well-networked)
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Committed to the success of the organization (desire to make a difference)
  • Flexible and courageous in speaking up for what they believe

Change champions must see their role as a good opportunity and not something their manager is forcing them to do. One way to accomplish this is to have senior leaders, rather than the project team, communicate to the champions that they have been nominated for this role. Leaders should explain that it’s an honor to be selected as a change champion and highlight the characteristics and behaviors that contributed to each person’s nomination. Building a strong relationship between the leaders and champions increases the chance for success.

Prior to selecting individuals, you’ll want to determine two important numbers:

  • How many change champions do we need? Use a ratio of one change champion for every 20-30 impacted end users. This allows the flexibility to support the full group of end users without causing significant resource drain on the organization.
  • What is the time commitment per champion? Depending on the type of change, commitment ranges from 5-10% of a person’s job (2-4 hours per week). In some instances, the change champion role is full-time, in which case they will need support on day-to-day activities. Whatever the time commitment, set the expectation up front with champions, and consider including change network participation in the employee’s performance objectives to build accountability.

2) Kick Off the Change Network

The first change network meeting should be a kick-off. The person leading the change network (not the champions themselves) explains the project and what it means to be a change champion. Chances are your champions will enter the project with little understanding of change management, so be sure to explain what change management is and its role in driving organizational success.

Here’s a sample agenda for the kick-off meeting:

  1. Explain the Change (including benefits)
  2. Review the Change Management Strategy
  3. Explain the Purpose and Expected Contribution of a Change Network
  4. Deep Dive into Roles & Responsibilities
  5. Materials & Resources Available to the Champions
  6. Discussion: How can we best engage end users?
  7. Next Steps / Actions / Asks

Change champions should understand that the project team alone cannot drive organizational change, and the champions’ credibility and relationships will be the difference makers in change adoption. While the champions have a big responsibility, they will also have guidance and support from the project team.

3) Move Champions Along the Change Curve

The Change Curve is a model that depicts the stages of personal transition people experience during organizational change. By allowing us to predict how people will react to change, the change curve helps us prepare and support our workforce to achieve adoption. Interestingly, these transitional phases match those associated with the five stages of grief.

Source: Mindtools
The purpose of hosting regular change network meetings is to move change champions along the curve (from denial to acceptance), so they in turn can move end users along the curve. The change team should not overlook the importance of preparing for these meetings. By planning for each of the following aspects, the team can strategically move champions along the change curve:

  • Meeting Frequency: It’s common for frequency to change based on project milestones. You may meet less frequently in beginning project stages when the purpose is to build awareness, and more frequently as you prepare champions for their role in project deployment. Share a schedule with your change network ahead of time to ensure maximum participation.
  • Meeting Content: In the beginning, cover items such as the project scope, purpose, benefits, and challenges. Progress into more detailed reviews of the change and its impacts, system demonstrations, training plans, and most importantly, a continuous explanation of the change champion’s role at each stage.
  • Materials: The change team running the change network should prepare presentations, documents, and system demonstrations ahead of each meeting. Be ready to demonstrate intricacies of the system and answer questions from champions.

4) Build Champion Commitment

When a change is deployed, it can result in either compliance or commitment across end users. The graphic below shows how everyone starts at the awareness level and can travel down divergent paths depending on the support they receive. Your first goal is to achieve commitment across your change champions.

Organizational change can result in compliance or commitment. All employees start at the awareness level and can travel down divergent paths that either lead to compliance (“I have to accept this new way”) or commitment (“I believe in this new way”). The level of support and communication employees receive throughout change management impacts their end state.

Each change network meeting should renew the champions’ sense of purpose, responsibility, and enthusiasm to share information with those affected by the change. To encourage this feeling, assign the champions an ask or action (much like homework) at the end of each meeting. This could include: providing feedback to the project team on the impacts of the change, and perceptions of those impacts; reviewing a communication and providing feedback; cascading a communication; or helping to lead training. The ask will vary depending on the exact role you have determined your champions will play.

Change champions are a great vehicle to help cascade communications. It’s more impactful to have a trusted person in the business unit deliver a message than for a blanket message to be sent to the entire organization. Once the champions cascade a message, they should collect and communicate feedback to the change network and team to collaboratively identify solutions or additional activities needed to address concerns. This champion-to-champion peer support also helps to grow commitment to the change.

Client Success Story:

Involving a change network at every step of a global change

Our client was a brewer with 18,000 employees and 31 breweries selling in more than 50 countries. Strong-Bridge Envision (SBE) was asked to support the change management of a three-year effort to standardize HR processes globally and bring the entire organization onto a single tool, SuccessFactors, to support these processes.

Change Network Approach
Building a tiered global change network was critical to our change management strategy. The structure was:

  • Tier 1: Global Change Management Team (SBE resources) – responsible for the change management strategy, communications, training materials, and change network meeting facilitation.
  • Tier 2: Business Unit Change Leads – HR Business Partners and Directors from each of the client’s geographies (US, Canada, UK, and Central Europe) responsible for owning the change in their geography, localizing communications and training materials with their regional differences, and co-leading the change network meetings.
  • Tier 3: Change Champions – Selected key members from each function (including HR) to drive change across the organization. The end result was a change network group of 150 change champions across the globe.

Change Network Execution
The project steering committee nominated change champions and sent each a personal letter sharing the specific qualities sought in determining champions.

After holding two kick-off meetings – one for the US & Canada-based champions, and one for UK and Europe-based champions – change network meetings were held biweekly for the six months leading up to deployment. Change champions provided feedback on global messaging and training plans, and they were invited to participate in User Acceptance Testing to gain early exposure to the tool.

Each meeting closed with an action item for our champions. One of their early tasks was to cascade an informative presentation created by the Global Change Team to the groups they supported. This set the stage for receiving important feedback and input from our change champions throughout every stage of the project.

After go-live, change network meetings continued as part of the support process. Champions were our first line of support, and they were invited to optional weekly meetings to receive help from the project team in answering questions and to share issues or questions from end users. This feedback was instrumental in updating training materials and FAQs.

When the project closed, Chief People Officers joined the final change network meeting and gave each champion a thank-you note and gift to show appreciation for their dedication and above-and-beyond time commitment.


Change networks are a powerful part of any change strategy. They move ownership of the change to the business, which decreases the magnitude and duration of productivity dips and improves the chances of the change sticking long-term.

Being a change champion is often in addition to an employee’s day job, so a change network must be run thoughtfully. Prepare your champions to be valuable change assets by identifying the correct champions, setting expectations about their role, and communicating regularly to move them along the change curve and ultimately achieve change commitment.

Most importantly, consistently executing change networks on large organizational change initiatives will foster a lasting change capability to prepare the organization for future changes that come its way.