The role of influencers in change management

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Every organisation contains three types of structure. Typically, we consider the organisational structure as being most prominent. Mapping out the different roles and functions provides information on reporting lines – but that’s about it. So while it’s the most visible structure, it’s perhaps the least useful.

The operating model is different. This is useful because it tells us how the work is done. But, there’s often a disconnect between the ‘official’ process and the way the work is actually done. For example, your official process may be to obtain a signed contract and provide a PO number before contractors begin work, but it’s such a cumbersome process that employees tend to go ahead and ask contractors to start immediately, and they’ll backfill the paperwork later. So while useful, it’s less accurate because the true operating model is rarely (if ever) written down. And maybe it can’t be in its traditional form.

Finally, we come to the most hidden – and most important – structure of all: the influencer network. This has nothing to do with hierarchy and everything to do with connection. These invisible social networks run throughout every organisation. They’re the reason an entire office can fall flat – because if an influencer is having a bad day, it causes a ripple effect across the business. But equally, the network can be hugely powerful. Get an influencer to back your initiative, and they transform into a champion that accelerates change. 

What influencer marketing teaches us about change

We see influencer marketing a lot on social media platforms, like Instagram and Twitter, where companies leverage a ‘celebrity’s’ followers to boost brand recognition and engagement. When done correctly, it can be a very effective marketing tool – according to the Digital Marketing Institute, influencers can increase purchase intent by 5.2x.  

According to McKinsey, employee resistance is the most common reason executives cite for the failed change. But apply the principles of influencer marketing, and you secure the cultural change required for successful transformation.

But you don’t need to run out and book a Kardashian to champion your change initiative. Rather identify the ‘celebrities’ in your organisation. They can change behaviours because of who they are and their ability to create a groundswell of excitement that encourages the crowd to buy-in.

Your people have influence because they have meaningful connections to people across the whole business. They know personal details and often demonstrate empathy towards individuals. And they become known as the ‘go to’ person for getting stuff done. Christine in accounts is far more likely to be your influencer than a senior manager, because she’s interacting with colleagues daily and is perhaps more likely to engage with them on a social/personal level.

Change one mind at a time

While influencers are adept at leading cultural change in the workplace, to change an organisation all at once can be difficult. Therefore, influencers focus on rallying support from a few key people to help spread the message.

Take ‘the dancing guy’ as a prime example. Alone, he is one crazy man on a mission to dance. But then someone influential joins him and encourages their friends to get involved. The ‘movement’ quickly gains momentum as more and more people rise to dance (if only for fear of feeling left out).

Without the first follower, there is no movement – so identify who your influencers are, and you take the first BIG step towards success.

How to identify your influencers

Because your influencers are hidden from visible management structures- they probably don’t even realise the power they possess – your first challenge is to find them.

Run a survey.

The survey itself is largely irrelevant, so ask any question you like. What matters is who answers. Pick some recipients at random and ask: who else should complete the survey? The names provided by peers (not managers) will quickly uncover who the real 3% of influential employees are in your business.

Don’t dictate. Co-create.

Your influencers have the power to either accelerate change – or sabotage it. If you push ahead with your vision of success, setting out the end goal, metrics and activities, you’ll face resistance from the people you need the most. Remember, influencers earn their position within the business because of the relationships they form and nurture.

When we support companies through their transformation journey, we place them into the Business Agility Accelerator. As a vehicle for change, it’s where we develop a new environment in which change can thrive. 

Teams are formed with people from across the business based on capabilities. The earlier you can onboard influencers into your transformation journey, the smoother the ride. Because the team is outcome-driven, with access to relevant data, responsible for setting their OKRs and accountable to each other, they have the ability to control and champion change. When others can see what your influencers are doing, and the impact they’re having, they will naturally enthuse and spread that excitement until it flows to every corner of the business and creates ‘pull’ from other employees.

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AJ Circle Crop
Written by Adrian Stalham
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