BRM as a Change Agent

Posted | Category: BRM Capability, Professional Development | Contributed

A successful Business Relationship Manager is a successful change agent. Learn how.

In the obsessive pursuit of realized business value, successful BRMs must influence or persuade senior executives to initiate and go through some form of strategic change—whether that change is reengineering a business process, refreshing a business strategy, tackling a business problem, or seizing a business opportunity. They must also influence Provider leaders and key stakeholders to deliver what the business truly needs—and to ensure that effective business engagement and the right conditions exist in order to realize projected business value in practice.

Since BRMs typically have little to no direct authority (such as positional power), they must act through influence and persuasion, and influencing strategic change usually means influencing those with significant positional power. That’s where the skills and disciplines of change agency come into play. defines the role of change agent as the following:

“…a person from inside or outside the organization who helps an organization transform itself by focusing on such matters as organizational effectiveness, improvement, and development. A change agent usually focuses his efforts on the effect of changing technologies, structures, and tasks on interpersonal and group relationships in the organization. The focus is on the people in the organization and their interactions.”

From my experience, successful change agents possess three important qualities:

  1. They have mastered the discipline commonly referred to as Organizational Change Management (or in BRM Institute terms, Business Transition Management) and possess and apply the knowledge and skills demanded for successful strategic change.
  2. They exhibit “executive presence” so that they are taken seriously by senior executives and influence leaders.
  3. They have mastered Management Consulting and possess the skills needed to clarify business issues, create and articulate a compelling future state vision, and identify a meaningful path from current to future state.

Let’s take a closer look at these three qualities.

The first quality is addressed through Organizational Change Management (OCM) methodology with its associated tools and techniques. Many firms license OCM methodologies and offer trainings and certification in the disciplines of managing change.

For example, BRM Institute’s BRMP® certification introduces a Business Transition Management Capability Model and foundational OCM tools and techniques. BRM Institute’s more advanced CBRM® certification drills deeper into the OCM discipline and introduces additional tools and techniques. For BRMs with an affinity for the so-called “soft skills,” OCM disciplines can be relatively easily learned, but are not so easily applied. Success with these disciplines takes skills and practice, and it demands the next aforementioned quality: executive presence.

In an article entitled “Do You Have ‘Executive Presence’?” Forbes writes:

“The ability to project gravitas­—confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness—seems to be its core characteristic, according to more than two-thirds of the executives surveyed. Furthermore, communication—including speaking skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience or situation—and appearance contribute to a person’s perceived executive presence.”

Harvard Business Review’s article “Deconstructing Executive Presence” offers an instructive case example:

“Every manager would love to have a Frank Simmons on his or her management team. Experienced, results-oriented, collaborative, and committed to the company, Frank showed up on succession lists for a number of years—but was never promoted. Although a top performer in his area, Frank always looked a little rumpled and his posture was a bit hunched. When he made presentations to the executive team, he was invariably well-prepared, but his lack of comfort was evident in his body language. Normally highly articulate, his presentations were long-winded and rambling. In the Q&A portion of his presentations, he tended to be overly deferential to members of the executive team, and he was hesitant to insert himself into the conversation when the executives got into a debate. As one senior executive said privately, “Frank’s an incredible asset to the company, but I just can’t envision putting him in front of a customer.””

To a degree, executive presence is an innate quality, but it can certainly be strengthened through learning, coaching, and practice. Executive presence and its related quality, charisma, have been the subject of many books, TED Talks, YouTube videos, and courses over the last few years. Much of this material builds on body language, also referred to as non-verbal communication.

An excellent resource for developing executive presence is the ubiquitous Toastmasters International organization. A very close friend joined Toastmaster about a year ago, and the transformation I’ve seen in him has been remarkable!

The third quality is, in part, methodology-based—having a process you (and your client) can trust, with access to a body of tools and techniques that you are familiar with, be it issue clarification, visioning, problem analysis, process reengineering, and so on.

Many of these techniques are embodied in methods such as Six Sigma, and can be learned through available training or via working as a Management Consultant with a credible consulting firm. Additionally, BRM Institute has a unique BRM-centered set of techniques and tool kits available through its members-only Online Campus.

Change Agent Implications for BRMs

If the BRM is not skilled as a change agent, who will fill that role? Many companies effectively ‘outsourced’ the disciplines of OCM to consulting firms, at least for the largest change initiatives such as Enterprise Resource Planning deployment. When the consultants leave, the OCM expertise and practices leave with them, and for smaller change initiatives, they often ignore the majority of OCM issues other than basic end user training—and perhaps some ‘power user’ training.

Furthermore, in some companies, the Human Resource (or Organizational Development) function maintains a small cadre of OCM expertise, but this is frequently inadequate—either quantitatively or qualitatively, and the individuals found in these OCM groups often lack in executive presence.


Given their focus on value realization (and, in some cases, their shared accountability for value) the BRM must step up to the OCM plate.

So, by default, given their focus on value realization (and, in some cases, their shared accountability for value) the BRM must step up to the OCM plate. As such, it is important to staff BRM positions with “the right stuff” in terms of executive presence, followed by training them in the ways of OCM.

OCM is not an implementation issue—it crosses the entire life cycle from idea to value realization. If you don’t recognize OCM implications in ideation, they will come back to bite you! This is why the BRM role—which, when executed successfully, is engaged early in the life cycle of an idea—needs to have change agent skills.

When effecting strategic change, you either pay up front by paying attention to the OCM issues, or you pay later through business value leakage, pain and anxiety for stakeholders in the change, and often through failed strategic change initiatives.

Vaughan Merlyn is a management consultant, author, and educator who has focused on elevating the business value of IT for over 40 years. In 1995, he co-developed a comprehensive BRM training program in collaboration with Professor Michael Earl, Oxford University, Cranfield School of Management in the UK and Nanyang University in Singapore. He also collaborated with Professor James Cash at the Harvard Business School to create and deliver a BRM Development program, which was delivered to hundreds of BRMs from around the world.

Vaughan has also developed and delivered customized in-house programs for international Fortune 100 corporations. He is a Principal of The Merlyn Group.

One Response

  1. Starla Borges says:

    Great article, Vaughan. Understanding the role of a change agent is critically important, and sometimes that can be helped along by understanding the other roles tied to change. There are several great organizations out there with varying definitions. Thought I’d share one of my faves:

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