In our beginning discussion on organizational change, we established the importance of people insights as an integral component of driving transformation. In fact, identifying those who can act as key enablers and change agents prove invaluable to the success of any change initiative. Author Jon Katzenbach refers to these key influencers as “authentic informal leaders”:

“Authentic informal leaders are the individuals within your company who have a high degree of emotional intuition or social connectedness, and powerful influence on others.” Source: Strategy + Business

The scale of transformational change demands a broader coalition of change agents, working closely with your organization’s “change instigators,” to make sense of the change in galvanizing the critical masses; in simple terms, you must harness “authentic informal leaders.” As Conrad & Poole describe it, “Through mutual interaction, stakeholders and change agents construct compatible interpretations of the change.” The question then is “how do I identify these key influencers?”

Informal Networks

By conducting an organizational network analysis, you can identify these key influencers for purposes of communicating change within their informal networks. Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a quantitative method for modeling and analyzing how communications, information, decisions and resources flow through an organization. To illustrate this point, one of our clients found 38 of their 675 headquarters employees were connected to better than 60% of the company’s employees through their informal network; mind you, nearly 80% of these employees were manager-level or below (Figure 1). By identifying who your employees rely on for professional advice and guidance, and most importantly energy and engagement, you reveal these influential, informal leaders.

Example Network Diagram
Figure 1. Example Network Diagram (Nodes and Ties)

It’s easy to rely on word-of-mouth and managerial heuristics to identify people to serve as change agents during new organization rollout and transformation. But more frequently than not, the people identified through these approaches are not the “real” leaders. ONA increases the chances that the natural leaders in your organization are on board and the transformation achieves the intended objectives.” Source: Deloitte Human Capital

Visualizing and understanding these informal relationships are instrumental in the organic and spontaneous exchange of information. These informal networks provide insight into how your employees are thinking about change, allowing you to optimize your formal communication channels and change efforts.

Sense-making

Uncertainty and ambiguity are commonplace during organizational change. Organizational theorist Karl Weick has observed people engage in sense-making processes by interacting with others as a means of interpreting change. The Oxford Dictionary defines sense-making as “the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences.” No doubt you have observed these dynamics within your organization during times of change; the perennial “go-to” person in a department or business unit to whom seemingly everyone turns for guidance and advice. In a recent podcast, Dame Moya Greene, former chief executive of Royal Mail, in driving change at a 502-year-old institution with 139,000 people explains:

“You have to figure out who can be an effective ambassador…who can help you. Sometimes it’s just going to be a peer coach who is very widely respected. Sometimes it’s going to be an ‘old hand’ who has seen a lot of change.”

As affirmed in The rise of the social enterprise, “ONA tools can … identify key knowledge management resources, subject-matter experts, and organizational influencers based on their interactions and relationships— not necessarily their titles and roles.”

Connecting the Dots

So how then do you capitalize on these informal leaders, or who are often referred to as “super-connectors”, at the hub of your informal network? How do you create “effective ambassadors”, as Dame Greene dubbed them? One very powerful means by which to engage your key influencers is in a Transition Monitoring Team (TMT). As defined by author William Bridges, the TMT is usually made up of a wide cross-section of the organization, and “provides a point of ready access to the organization’s grapevine and so can be used to correct misinformation and counter rumors.” When the inevitable question from project sponsors comes, “How are things going?”, the TMT is a hedge against the obligatory response:

“As answers to that innocent question are filtered and interpreted and sometimes blocked on their way up, they are inevitably distorted.”

At one of our clients, their “Ambassadors” constituted the TMT and became central to the dialog surrounding change, and importantly, the general sentiment of its employees. (We’ll expand on people sentiments in our third in this series). Regardless the vehicle, it’s abundantly clear the success of any change initiative is contingent upon leveraging people insights originating from these key influencers and their informal network.

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