Identifying the true influencers in your organization and activating them is key to making sustainable changes.
ometimes predicting whether a change initiative in your organization will succeed or fail can feel like licking your finger and sticking it into the wind.
You can strategically plot out the most convincing plan for change. You can drive awareness with the clearest of communications. And yet, if your vision and messages don’t meet employees where they are, fill their sails and chart them on the course you’ve set, who knows where the tide will take them?
Building a Community
Steering employees toward successful change requires both push and pull. This is particularly true when it comes to change communications, where formal, company-wide emails or announcements often fail to generate the personal buy-in and engagement needed for people to consider changing their behavior.
To engage today’s distracted, multitasking workers, organizations must consider the broader climate of experiences and connections that inspire employees to adopt long-term change. Inspiring workers to genuinely commit to a new normal requires the initiative of change leaders (communications, HR and executive sponsors). They must build communities of influential individuals within the organization and balance the delivery of formal, top-down content with informal, in-person conversations.
Striking this balance is tricky; it involves navigating an increasingly complex internal information environment. Employees rely on a variety of old and new channels to communicate and have multiple concerns on their minds. But by understanding how information flows through your organization — and how to influence the way it's delivered — you can ultimately wield it for desired business ends.
Leveraging the 'Pull' Side
Critical to understanding this information flow is viewing the people who comprise the communities of peer-to-peer connections within your organization as pivotal communications vehicles. When change leaders “push” content out to the enterprise, these influential individuals become the “pull” channels who extend the reach and influence of the communications.
So how can change leaders leverage the pull side? The best starting place is to identify the true influencers (also known as "nodes") within the networks.
These influencers are the individuals who are most respected, connected and credible among their colleagues. Traditionally, identifying them involved zooming in to the top of the org chart. But title and level aren’t always synonymous with influence. Nodes exist at every level, location and segment within an organization.
A new method called Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) can help you find them. ONA visualizes the informal communication flows and patterns within an organization. Once ONA identifies your true influencers, change leaders can engage and mobilize these colleagues into a community of change agents who can help deliver and advocate for new strategies and initiatives.
Meet Three Influencer Types
Engaging a broad mix of influencers can strengthen change communications. An Organized Network Analysis (administered by a research firm like OrgMapper), can identify well-connected “social hubs”, knowledgeable “role models” and “champions” — those who combine both social networks and knowledge/expertise.
The results can be impressive. For example, FTI Consulting recently conducted an ONA survey for an energy company. We found that senior leaders could reach 32 percent of the company, while the leading employee influencers could reach 68 percent of their colleagues — showing how non-traditional communication offers the potential to more than double the impact of standard internal channels.
As new, two-way communications channels, this community can also serve as “eyes and ears” on the ground, sharing feedback and identifying and addressing local issues that may influence message acceptance. After all, without a pulse on mood, an executive’s change plan can be as dependable as yesterday’s weather in predicting future success.
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Through this push-and-pull approach (with additional qualitative analysis), you can also spot and seal the gaps for reaching, engaging and mobilizing employees with business-critical communications — whether those gaps are about mistrust based on experiences with a previous change, lack of mobile connectivity or a bottleneck in managers communicating with their teams.
Balance Channels and Content
Technology should enable personal, informal conversations; it cannot and should not replace them. This means the search for a single, “silver bullet” new channel (perhaps an intranet, social media platform or app) is often an unrealistic expectation. Though these technologies can play an important role, in the long run, it’s the overall balance of strategic channels and content, tailored to the individual company’s culture and communications infrastructure, that can make waves across an organization.