C is for Champion

photo by Noah Näf on unsplash
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Whenever we go into a new setting, one of our first tasks is to find the people who to be our cheerleaders. These are your key opinion leaders, the person or persons who are your examples, your innovation-specific project leaders, and innovation advisors. These are the people who are going to, well, champion the change. 

Implementation A-Z is our ongoing series about making the concepts of implementation science straightforward and accessible.

This role sounds a bit like a leader. However, a champion may not be your overall, top-of-the-pyramid leader. I did a few years ago, I was working on sexual assault prevention with the U.S. military. It wasn’t always the officers who made sure a prevention project happened. It was the non-commissioned officers like the Petty Officers or Sargaents who helped to build buy-in among the teams. These men and women could be relied upon to help grow the momentum for a change.

Champions have the enthusiasm. Like influencers, champions shape those around them through their expertise, experience, representativeness, and credibility. A champion could be your early adopter. This is the person who loves new things because they’re new. These are the people who do the equivalent of waiting in line to get the newest iPhone. They are someone who will talk about the new project’s benefits. They have a special skill at persuading those that the new innovation has lots of relative advantages over the status quo.

Champions have the message. They can get the change’s core meaning and purpose out across many different people in a way that gets and holds their attention. By their upbeat attitude toward a change, champions can influence how people feel about the change process.

Champions have the connections. They tend to occupy a key linking position in the organization. They’re not so senior they are inaccessible, but not so minor they cannot influence change. They possess skills in understanding other’s motives and aspirations and have good interpersonal negotiating skills. They don’t just have strong relationships, they have many different types of relationships, some strong and some weak. They can therefore bridge many types of relationships.

So, when you start at the beginning of a project, spend some time finding AND recruiting your champion! But the importance of a champion doesn’t end at the beginning of a project. Good champions help to maintain enthusiasm and momentum for a change even after the initial novelty wears off.

Other resources

There are loads of academic articles on attributes of champions. Here are two articles to start with that I really like.

On the community level, champions can also play a positive role. Here’s a whole section of the Community Tool Box devoted to community champions.

Taking thing even broader, the skills a champion possess can spill over into other fields, notably sales, marketing, and social psychology. There’s a lot to comb through there. I recently read and really enjoyed the updated edition of Influence by Robert Cialdini, which covers mechanisms champion-like people can use to make a change happen.

What does PubTrawlr Say?

We found over 2,700 articles that deal with champions. While a lot of them focus on the material sciences. This article by McCullough et al. showed up as highly representative of the barriers and facilitators topic.

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