Winning over skeptical employees and convincing them of the need to change just isn’t possible through mass e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, or impassioned CEO mandates. Rather, companies need to develop strong change leaders employees know and respect—in other words, people with informal influence. But there’s one problem: finding them.
The solution, say McKinsey, is to use Snowball sampling:
…a simple survey technique used originally by social scientists to study street gangs, drug users, and sex workers—hidden populations reluctant to participate in formal research. These brief surveys (two to three minutes) ask recipients to identify acquaintances who should also be asked to participate in the research.
In business, one can use similar approaches to find out:
Companies can construct simple, anonymous e-mail surveys to ask, for example: “Who do you go to for information when you have trouble at work?” or “Whose advice do you trust and respect?”. In shop-floor and retail-store settings where workers don’t have ready access to e-mail, companies can use anonymous paper surveys.
McKinsey found that:
– influence patterns almost never follow the organizational chart.
– exist at all levels of a company and aren’t easily identified or predicted by role or tenure (although relatively few are senior company leaders, as might be expected given their formal influence).
– even when company leaders believe they know who the influencers will be, they are almost always wrong.
No great surpries there, but useful corroboration. Good point on needing non-digital tools for finding such people among non or semi-connected workers, many businesses still have many of these. Anyway, once you have found your foxes, the next is to create the conditions to influence the enterpriswith. McKinsey found 4 techniques worked well:
1. Think broad, not deep. The [client] company sought influencers in a swath of regions, functions, and roles (including frontline ones). The diversity of opinion and experience not only helped provide energy and good ideas but also later proved important in communicating the changes, in role-modeling them across the company, and in combating skepticism.
While there is no formula to determine how many influencers a company should include, the sample must be wide enough to pull in a diversity of roles and perspectives….. The goal is finding enough people with influence in enough roles to get a high degree of connectivity across the company through a relatively small number of connections (out of the total number possible). Some roles may prove to be particularly important. (Case study mentioned cashiers in retailers)
2. Trust, but verify. To build trust, participants at the manufacturer [one client] received letters of invitation explaining the program’s goals, why these employees had been nominated, and how the company wanted them to help. It took pains to make the initiative voluntary. Having influencers opt into change efforts builds trust and encourages high-quality results. Indeed, many influencers will be eager to help and view the experience as an honor worthy of their best efforts.
But goodwill dissipates quickly if employees feel coerced. Before extending any invitations, the manufacturing company discreetly vetted all participants with Human Resources and local managers. Vetting the participants helps “screen in” influencers who are well regarded by both peers and superiors, while acknowledging the reality that not all influence is positive and not all influencers want change. Although “bad eggs” should be screened out of important program roles, they still merit attention—as valuable sources of insight about how to convert skeptics.
3. Don’t dictate—cocreate. Both clients studied engaged their influencers as thought partners in the change effort, not just as mouthpieces for change. That’s an important point because the influencers’ informal authority dwindles if they seem to be doing the bidding of management. The participants were organized in teams addressing themes they helped identify (for example, shop-floor safety, incentives for employees to think more innovatively, and actions to make the company more customer focused). Because both efforts required sustained input from the participants, the meetings inspired and motivated them. As the programs gathered steam, many of these employees helped to spread feelings of empowerment in their usual roles as well.
4. Connect the dots. To boost the odds of lasting change, the manufacturer created an online forum, supported by videoconferences, aimed at encouraging the influencers to meet and support one another periodically. In an effort to make these interactions as meaningful as possible, the company divided the influencers into smaller, volunteer-led groups focused on common themes. This approach not only helps to produce more tangible actions and outcomes but also makes it easier for the groups to connect with colleagues working on similar projects in other regions or business units. The participants’ sense of community, and of themselves as change leaders, grows as they share best practices, discuss new ideas, and address the inevitable challenges. The company’s early commitment to in-person gatherings has made subsequent interactions by e-mail, telephone, or videoconference far more meaningful. In general, creating opportunities for influencers to meet in person usually pays big dividends.
There is a noticeable Hawthorne effect (or should one say a snowball effect):
While the programs at both companies are works in progress, these early success stories have highlighted specific activities and behavior that drive performance. They are thus helping the companies to further articulate and accelerate the expected changes. Employee-satisfaction scores have also improved sharply at both companies, in large part thanks to increased levels of collaboration and empowerment.
It’s interesting to think about how one may adapt social business techniques for this, and vice versa. First thoughts are that as a way of creating an influence programme for social business implementation, it seems fairly sensible. Second thought is that it would go much better with certain social tools already in situ (internal collaboration and communication software, crowdsourcing for internal inovation and problem solving for example.). It would be interesting to see if you could find the same people using email or social analytics, or see if one could monitor influencer impact digitally.