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

Take 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)?

Figure 1-1: The Change Agent And The Primary Client System

Stage 1.3   Where Are You?

Defining And Managing Your Own Role

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.