It’s been well over two years since I wrote my first post on hidden influencers and the importance of discovering who they are, and the critical role they play in driving change in organisations. Since that article, it’s becoming even more apparent that we cannot overlook these people who often carry more influence than peers and leaders with formal power or authority.
With agile and modern ways of working at the forefront, change is even more relentless. We are operating in an ongoing state of uncertainty and ambiguity, with shifts in formal power, or old power to new power. I’ve also had time (and the wisdom of hindsight) to reflect on initiatives I’ve launched in organisations with the support of these informal networks.
Beyond the stakeholder matrix
In my book, in the chapter called ‘Beyond the stakeholder matrix’, I refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, where he describes people who are effective influencers as the ones with the rare social gifts, naming them connectors, mavens and salesmen.
If we translate this to influence within organisations, the message is to look beyond the formal organisational chart and hierarchy, and the linear stakeholder matrix, to uncover your hidden influencers who are your mavens, your ravers and your quiet achievers. These are the people who make a valuable contribution to driving change by the way in which they influence - they help make change stick.
Here’s a bit more on the three types of hidden influencers to find and tap into to support change initiatives:
I know about this…I am a subject matter expert, an advisor and knowledge sharer
The maven is the subject matter expert in your organisation - either a formally learned individual or a self-taught one. Either way, the expertise of your mavens deserves some attention. Find out who they are and tap into their knowledge. They will enjoy being sought after for what they know, and will often willingly share it. If you ignore them, you risk being criticised for poor application or misinterpretation of information. A happy and valued maven shares their knowledge at the right time, with the right people. People seek out mavens to tap into their expertise, to ‘pick their brains’.
Look out for your mavens by asking these questions:
I love this…I am divergent, curious and an energetic connector
Not quite the same as the one who goes to rave parties, your in-house organisational raver is likely to be a divergent thinker with a high level of curiosity. Once they latch on to an idea they like, they will enthusiastically evangelise your message. They are exceptional networkers and connectors with an appetite for new ways of thinking and doing.
Find your energetic ravers by:
Search your ESN conversation for 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.
When I needed to kick off a social learning initiative a couple of years ago, it was the Yammer ravers who helped me launch and drive the program across the organisation through their support and involvement.
I like to ponder this…I am introverted, considered and thoughtful
The quiet achiever is a highly influential introvert who likes to think things through. They are quiet, considered and thoughtful, so you may overlook them.
Since my post on hidden influencers back in 2016, I’ve discovered the research carried out by Innovisor. Based in Denmark, Innovisor carries out organisational analysis that uncovers informal networks in organisations, showing where collaboration is either strong or weak. These insights are particularly useful for businesses with teams across jurisdictions. They call this the ‘power of knowing’.
According to Innovisor, the key misconceptions about influencers is that they are high performing extroverts who have been in the organisation a long time. However, this is not always the case. Most are introverted, brilliant listeners who value one-on-one conversations to build trust. They have valuable insights because they listen deeply and thoughtfully make sense of situations.
As they are not noisy, it will be more difficult to uncover your quiet achievers. To find them:
Create forums with smaller groups or opportunities for one-on-one discussions
Invite feedback via numerous channels, including email
Ask around, or carry out organisational network analysis
Good to know
After years of organisational network analysis, Innovisor proposes we rethink how we deliver change by considering what they call “the three percent rule”. This rule means that it’s 3% of your workforce who are the key influencers with the capacity to reach over 85% of your employees. The key is to find out who they are and how to leverage their impact.
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 mavens, ravers and quiet achievers who have informal power, yet carry influence through their reach and association with others. Your hidden influencers may not neatly fall in one category. It could be that the maven is also a quiet achiever. When you mention their name, you’ll hear words of respect or admiration and very rarely anything negative about them. And once they’re involved and on board, they can be very effective allies and influencers.