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Change hack 9: Untapping the hidden influencers in your organisation

Decades before telephones and any other sophisticated communication technology existed, we relied on word-of-mouth to spread the word and engage people, often by foot, horseback and more recently by sea and air travel. But not all news that travelled through these means hit the mark. We quickly learnt that it’s not just about how the message is delivered via various communication channels that’s important. We also need to pay attention to who is delivering the message.

There’s some great tips on hitting the mark with our messages in our history books.

Imagine we are in the year 1775 - the start of the American Revolution. Two revolutionaries, Paul Revere and William Dawes, set out on a horseback journey to spread the word to unite the country in the “cause”. While Revere and Dawes covered the same distance and towns, with the same message, it was only Revere’s that garnered the level of passion and support for the change.

Now about Paul Revere. He wasn’t a politician or community leader or in a role that held a great deal of positional power. He was a silversmith who was well connected with social presence. He belonged to numerous clubs representing diverse interests. He was a socially astute networker who knew who to reach out to, to spread the revolutionary change message.

In his book, the Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell identified Revere’s social mojo as the ingredient that ‘tipped’ the message, and describes people with Revere’s ‘rare set of social gifts’ as connectors, mavens and salesmen.

Does this sound like anyone you know in your organisation? Or perhaps it’s you? The colleague who knows people in various pockets of the organisation across business units and networks beyond the workplace; who is trusted and extremely likeable?

But how often do we tap into these connectors and mavens to help us deliver change in our business?

Beyond the hierarchy

Often our stakeholder matrix lists details on the leaders in our business who can make decisions or recommend them. To be a decision maker or a recommender usually means holding a position of legitimate or positional power that comes from having a role at the upper end of the organisational food chain.

When identifying stakeholders, it’s not only the decision makers or people directly involved in the change who we need to consider. Look for the influencers in your organisation who have the same informal power as Paul Revere, through their association with key stakeholders. In organisation behaviour textbooks, these influencers would be defined as holding referent power which is power gained by being respected and trusted. They may or may not be directly impacted by the change but they like to be involved or consulted. And once they’re involved and on board, they can be very effective allies and influencers.

But how to find them?

How do we find these fantastic enablers and connectors? Most people in your business will know them or have heard of them. Look around for the people who tend to be ‘everywhere’ - you see them talking to others in coffee shops, they know colleagues inside and often outside of work. When you mention their name, you’ll hear words of respect or admiration and very rarely anything negative about them. They are usually as competent in their job role as they are at building their social capital and personal brand.

If you have an Enterprise Social Networking channel, such as Yammer, in your organisation, take a look at the users with a strong voice. They have lots of followers. They post frequently across various groups. They invite comment, offer interesting insights and help connect people across the organisation when they identify a mutual need or goal. Other users are weighing-in, commenting on and sharing their posts. When I needed to kick off a social learning initiative a couple of years ago, it was the Yammer influencers who helped me launch and drive the program across the organisation through their support and involvement.

Typically, as expert networkers, they are comfortable with social media within their workplace and outside the organisation where they establish a broader network of industry connections. Confident and likeable, they network outside the conventional hierarchies and connect effectively across the company’s business divisions.

What now?

Ask yourself:

  • Who are the ‘Paul Reveres’ in my workplace?

  • How am I building a connection with them and working collaboratively to support change?

  • How can I tap into their network?

  • What can I learn from them?

You can watch my other lightning talks on my youtube channel.

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