Change agents are the indispensable leaders of digital transformation in organizations small and large. But what are the changes that you need to be a change agent in your company?

Spoiler: it's not just a strong desire for change.

Brian Solis, principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, studied the biggest brands in the world for five years. Today, he released a report highlighting what executives in leading companies like Coca-Cola, Samsung, Starbucks, Visa, and the NFL told him.

According to the report, change agents have 10 common characteristics. They typically:

  1. Embrace being a catalyst
  2. Organize with other change agents
  3. Learn to speak the language of the C-Suite
  4. Make allies
  5. Spread digital literacy
  6. Create a digital transformation roadmap
  7. Link digital transformation efforts to business goals and individuals' goals
  8. Set metrics and milestones
  9. Democratize ideation
  10. Capitalize on your own inherent "super powers"

Let's walk through each one in turn.

Embrace being a catalyst

The first seems the most obvious, but it's not. Sure, if you're going to function as a change agent, you'd better be ready to embrace the role. But note: the change agent does not change the company. 

Rather, change agents function as a catalyst for the company to change itself. That's a critical difference.

Organize with other change agents

Change agents are not Lone Rangers. Change agents need help.

One of the ways they get that help? By giving it. 

"Change agents often take on informal functions -- data gatherers and storytellers, influencers and case makers, relationship builders, and champion -- to navigate the human aspects of change and digital transformation," Solis writes in the report.

Learn to speak the language of the C-Suite

Change doesn't happen very often with out support and encouragement from the top.

But executives speak a different language and a different mindset to the company than the average rank-and-file employee.

To succeed, make sure you understand and adopt that language: quarterly objectives, return on investment, organizational structure, and so on.

Make allies

"Digital transformation efforts are bigger than any one department," Solis write. "They often require cross-functional resources for support and to be properly executed and funded."

That only happens when change is in the best interests of others in addition to yourself.

"Effective change agents are ambassadors of empowerment and inclusion," says Solis.

Spread digital literacy

Change agents need to know how to succeed in the new digital world. But they also need to help others acquire those same skills.

And sequencing is important:

"Education precedes day-to-day advocacy," says Foot Locker's VP of Global Digital Marketing, Emery Skolfield.

Create a digital transformation roadmap

Winners don't win by wishing. Winners win by planning the work, and then working the plan.

To balance short-term goals with long-term strategy, Solis suggests local pilot projects which can be done quickly and cheaply. Learnings can then be applied to larger-scale implementations.

Link digital transformation efforts to business goals and individuals' goals

No organization will change for change's sake. Change is hard and expensive, and as such, you need to link change to the organization's end goals.

 "You need to know what you're trying to accomplish in the end and why," says Visa's SVP of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, Shiv Singh. "Digital for the sake of digital isn't enough."

Set metrics and milestones

For similar reasons, change agents need to set metrics and milestones. All digital transformation has to be tied to ROI, says Solis.

After all, businesses are in business to make a profit.

Democratize ideation

The first lesson for a change agent: it's not about you. The second? All of us is generally smarter than just one of us.

"Digital change agents must play a role in democratizing idea generation so that as many ideas for digital transformation can be heard and considered, regardless of where these might come from," Solis says. "More important, change agents must bring executives to the table so that the best ideas can be implemented into o icial pilot programs."

Capitalize on your own inherent "super powers"

There's a reason that you are a change agent.

Maybe you naturally look forward. Maybe you care deeply about the goals and success of your organization. Maybe you're a natural team builder.

All change agents are self starters.

Some some are introverts and some are extroverts. Some find comfort in chaos, Solis says, and others seek to build new organizational structure. Regardless, change agents "don't give up unless they feel that true innovation isn't possible without significant compromise," Solis says.

Becoming a change agent can be hard, but it is rewarding

"Being a change agent is in your DNA. You have to be thick- skinned, and you can't worry too much about getting knocked down," says Coca-Cola's VP of Global Ecommerce Julie Bowerman. "It's something that you can't teach; it's who you are. You're an optimist who relishes in opportunity and doesn't focus on getting stuck."

So go change something!