A Champion Change Agent is the Credit Union’s Best Friend in Transformation of Every Kind

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Georgann Smith
Director, Marketing
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Critical to the mission, these leaders bridge the gap between strategy and execution.


How can an organization start the next chapter of its story when everyone is on a different page? It’s a question many leaders today are confronting as they build strategies for all kinds of transformation, from data and digital to mindset and culture.

While there is no singular answer, there is a foundational one: To start your next chapter, empower a champion change agent.

The champion change agent can come from anywhere. Often, they even come from outside the organization. A consultant champion change agent brings with them context (what’s working for others) and neutrality (no pressure to play politics).

Regardless of where they originate, the champion change agent brings forward several skills and qualities to advance the organization’s mission mainly by bridging the gap between vision and action. Or more aptly, marrying what’s in executives’ minds with what’s in everyone else’s.

This individual can guide an organization through all kinds of enterprise-wide transitions. Champion change agents drive rebranding efforts, join disparate cultures during M&A situations and keep large-scale data and digital initiatives on track with the organization’s long-term strategy.

The intentional trickling down of the vision is especially important when it comes to an organization’s data transformation journey. That’s because mapping out and executing data strategy is usually a highly complex undertaking, particularly in the credit union industry where legacy infrastructure requires multi-faceted plans and collaboration from a range of vendors and internal leaders.

Qualities of a Champion Change Agent

An incredibly strong communicator, the champion change agent helps executives predict the frontline pain points that threaten to stall or even seize a plan. He or she also helps the frontline and the people who supervise them feel the importance of their role to achieving the ultimate vision.

Aside from having excellent communication skills, the champion change agent must have the ability to move from the 10,000-foot view into the weeds swiftly and empathetically. That’s a rare specialty, but it’s absolutely necessary. Without the backing of that skill set, the data strategy may have a committed corporate sponsor, but it will never have an effective corporate advocate.

Within a credit union space, the champion change agent is likely to have worn many hats within similar organizations throughout his or her career. Varied experience, from the branch to the back office, makes it easier for the agent to anticipate issues or spot opportunities. It also enables them to easily enter the headspace of one department leader on a Monday, another on a Tuesday. They can speak with authority to both executives and managers, coordinators and interns. This is essential for achieving the synchronization necessary to accomplish data governance and engineering projects.

Curiosity is another essential quality of a champion change agent. Although they may know a credit union inside and out, they remain inquisitive. They are analytical, but don’t get drawn into the minutia of problem solving. They enjoy investigating, but aren’t bogged down by the inextricable. Perfection is never allowed to be the enemy of good in their minds. Champion change agents are not only okay with failing forward, they are evangelicals of the concept, often capable of shifting an entire organization’s culture toward one that learns from missteps.

Importantly, a champion change agent is trusted. That trust is usually earned first through active listening, which often follows asking the right questions. These might be as simple as, “How does your department define an engaged member? What about a profitable member?” Trust is earned second by acts of selfless leadership. When they uncover a lack of uniformity of consensus, champion change agents are willing to put in the extra effort to reach harmony, whether that’s in the setting of standard nomenclature or the complete reengineering of internal processes.

Champion change agents do not have to fight the good fight alone. In fact, the best agents are great at identifying champion change influencers. These are the internal team members whose voices carry. They have the trust and respect of their colleagues and can be a meaningful ally to the champion change agent.

The Bigger Picture

Across the credit union industry, project managers are often thrust in the role of champion change agent for data initiatives because they are gifted at keeping complex projects on time and on budget. While the right project manager may, indeed, be the perfect champion change agent, they must be able to inspire people to come along on the journey with them. And not because it’s their job. But because they want to. Because they see how important they are to the bigger picture, and how important the bigger picture is to the ultimate stakeholder group – the members.

At the end of the day, data maturity for credit unions is about gaining a crystal-clear view into members’ financial lives. It’s about offering members perfectly relevant guidance without being asked, enabling greatness among people who never thought it was possible and energizing others to go after the financial future they’ve already envisioned. A champion change agent knows this and can bring it to life for every member of the credit union team on the data transformation journey.