Application of Internal Influence to HR Initiatives
Influence is a concept that we are all familiar with – the ability to indirectly steer someone towards a desired product, action, or point of view. We hear of social media influencers who are paid ridiculous sums of money for the positive light that their affiliation can bring to a product or service. Mike Klein, Communications Strategist and principal of Changing the Terms has written about the Four Dimensions of Internal Influence:
- Ambassadors – formal representatives of the organization or specific initiatives.
- Followers – those who have to be asked to take part in initiatives, activities, or courses of action.
- Influencers – employees/members of the community informally sought advice, knowledge, or support.
- Advocates – individuals who voluntarily share opinions or facilitate initiatives or courses of action.
Although not stated in the formal definition above, my report of an Advocate assumes that voluntarily-provided opinions are valued and respected.
The status of an Influencer, I believe, is based on long-term organizational perceptions of the person and is not tied to a specific project. They are earned over time with the benefits of experience and/or expertise and/or demonstrated cross-functional knowledge and empathy.
On the other hand, Ambassadors and Followers should be thought of as initiative based. Any Influencer or Advocate can be tapped to step into those roles for a specific project.
When we think about executing a major HR initiative within an organization, all of these influence dimensions will come into play.
The timing, messaging, and expectation from each of these roles should be thoughtful and intentional. As we plan for this, the potential initiative can be divided into consideration and implementation stages.
This is the stage where the department is thinking about a major initiative.
Advocates are engaged at this very early stage. They are the persons with whom we should socialize the possibility of this initiative. The advocates should be a small group of employees who can be trusted to keep the information in confidence if asked.
They are invited to react to the possibility of the initiative and to give us their opinion of how the rest of the organization will react to it. They should help us to identify barriers to adoption, as well as unintended consequences of adoption. Interactions should be informal – over coffee, casual conversation, or an informal Zoom call.
Vetting the initiative with Advocates should be an early milestone of the consideration phase. If, after these interactions, you still want to proceed, the next group to be involved are the Influencers.
Influencers are asked to help shape the approach that will be taken with the initiative, not whether or not it should occur at all.
Influencers would be those asked to help develop requirements, participate in focus groups, fill out surveys, or join steering committees. Influencers might also be the employees asked to sit in on product demonstrations.
Having participated in the evaluations and specifications of the initiative, they should be on the shortlist to become Ambassadors during the next stage.
Ambassadors can come from among your organization’s Influencers or Advocates, or neither. Because they are being asked to help implement a major initiative, other factors should also weigh heavily in their selection– organization skills, attention to detail, drive, interpersonal skills, and functional knowledge.
Within the initiative, the Ambassadors take on roles like departmental team leader or departmental SME (subject matter expert).
In light of the responsibilities given to the Ambassadors, communication with them needs to be frequent, transparent, and timely. Concerns or issues raised by Ambassadors during implementation need to be acknowledged with urgency and followed up promptly. (Notice I did not say addressed. Those Ambassadors who are also Influencers or Advocates should have the awareness that not all issues can be addressed immediately. Even if they are not addressed, they should have the money to contribute to establishing a workaround.)
In short, Ambassadors are the linchpins to ensuring a successful implementation.
Those Advocates and Influencers not leveraged as Ambassadors should be excellent Followers. Their prior involvement during the consideration phase will make them informal “leaders among followers.” During implementation, communication to them does not need to be separate from that directed to all followers. Effective communication with constituents during a time of change is a core element of any effective change management strategy and is not further addressed here.
Understanding the Four Dimensions of Internal Influence and leveraging the potential of your Influencers and Advocates will help ensure the successful rollout of any major HR Initiative.